Chinese authorities have seized electronics and money from a Canadian couple accused of espionage.
In searches of an apartment and coffee shop belonging to Kevin and Julia Garratt, authorities took safes, documents, cash, computers, laptops, cell phones – even a fan and electric piano, according to the couple’s Vancouver-based son, Simeon Garratt.
“They left white gloves all over the house,” Simeon said Thursday night.
On Monday, the Garratts were detained by China’s State Security Bureau and accused of stealing Chinese military and defence research secrets. The Christian couple operated a charity that brought humanitarian goods to North Korea. They also ran a coffee shop and weekly English classes in Dandong, China, a city that overlooks the northwestern corner of North Korea.
The seizures come as China has also frozen the bank accounts of a Korean-American man running a Christian non-profit organization in a different city on the border with North Korea.
Peter Hahn operated a school in Tumen, China, and ran several businesses, including a bakery, in North Korea. He was placed under investigation by Chinese authorities three weeks ago, a source with direct knowledge of the case told Reuters, which reported the case Thursday.
Mr. Hahn has not been detained, and his school continues to operate, according to a woman who answered the telephone at the Tumen River Vocational School. But the Korean-American man is not permitted to leave the country, Reuters said, citing a source who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Mr. Hahn’s school is attended by ethnic Korean children. He also operates several humanitarian projects and joint venture companies inside North Korea, including a local bus service in the Rajin-Songbon Special Economic Zone. Attached to the Tumen River Vocational School is a western restaurant called the Green Apple Café. That cafe remains operational, the woman at the school said.
But a third cafe owned by Christian westerners in Yanji, another Chinese city near the North Korean border, has also recently closed.
Gina’s Place Western Restaurant opened in 2008, the same year the Garratts opened their café. The owners of the two establishments knew each other, with their children attending summer camps together.
David Etter, who ran Gina’s before it closed, said he, too, delivered humanitarian aid, including food, to North Korean orphanages. But, he said, the cafe’s closure was financially-motivated, and did not come as a result of government pressure.
“We just didn’t have the business, didn’t have the clientele, over the past six months to be able to continue being sustainable,” Mr. Etter said.
Still, the confluence of closures and government pressure on border establishments owned by foreign Christians adds to the questions about what lies behind the detention of the Garratts, the Canadian couple.
“The situation is getting more confusing by the minute,” said Rich Kao, the senior pastor at Five Stones Church, which supported the Garratts.
Authorities have begun to sweep for more information about the couple, questioning staff who worked at the Garratts’ coffee house. The cafe has been ordered closed during the investigation.
They have also continued to question the Garratt family. Peter Garratt, the only of the couple’s four children still living in their Chinese hometown of Dandong, was called in to the local State Security Bureau for a second time late in the week.
He was allowed to deliver a letter for his parents, and given one written by his mother.
“It was very brief, stating ’miss you guys, wish grannie a happy 81st birthday and tell her I’m doing ok. Also make sure you take care of Hannah,’” their youngest daughter who is 17, said Simeon Garratt.
His mother offered little information on her condition. The couple are under close guard in a government-operated lodging facility in Dandong.
“I am fine,” she wrote.
- With a file from Colin Freeze