In November 2020, executives at Huawei, the Chinese telecom-equipment maker, exchanged messages about holding a gathering with a “friend” and an “adviser” in Greece.
The contacts, recognized as Greek authorities advisers, had been set to offer Huawei with one thing precious: a doc outlining authorities contracts and “first priority projects” that the corporate would possibly wish to work on within the nation. Huawei managers mentioned giving the advisers a Huawei Mate XS smartphone, the corporate’s GT 2 smartwatch and wine, in keeping with inner textual content messages and different paperwork reviewed by The New York Times.
The plans are “strictly confidential among us,” a Huawei supervisor wrote in a bunch chat named after Greece’s digital ministry.
The alternate was a part of greater than 120 messages and summaries of inner Huawei communications offered to The Times by an individual working for a European authorities that investigated the corporate. The supplies, which recognized the contacts as authorities officers, supply a uncommon have a look at how Huawei tried to domesticate relationships with high-ranking figures in Greece, a small however vital nation for the corporate, and pushed the boundaries of Greek guidelines that prohibit presents to civil servants and authorities ministers.
In the communications, Huawei workers mentioned offering devices to a senior Greek authorities minister and his son, giving gadgets to police and immigration officers and organizing transportation for Greek regulators throughout an business convention within the United Arab Emirates in 2021. The messages didn’t say whether or not the presents had been finally delivered or if offers for the precedence initiatives had been signed.
Huawei, which sits in the midst of a technological Cold War between the United States and China, has been beneath a cloud for greater than 5 years over fears that Beijing can use its expertise for spying or sabotage. The firm has denied the accusations.
The U.S. authorities has restricted using Huawei tools within the nation and lower the corporate off from entry to sure American expertise. U.S. officers have additionally aggressively lobbied allies to ban Huawei’s gear in Europe, the corporate’s largest market outdoors China.
Greece is a first-rate instance of the blended success of the American lobbying marketing campaign. It has not prohibited Huawei’s merchandise outright, and the corporate has battled to maintain its hard-won maintain within the nation.
“Huawei views the U.S. actions as an existential threat,” stated Emily Kilcrease, a former deputy assistant U.S. commerce consultant who research the U.S.-Chinese financial relationship on the Center for a New American Security, a Washington assume tank.
The Times corroborated the inner communications, which had been despatched from 2020 to 2021, on the top of American efforts to ban Huawei expertise, by matching names, telephone numbers and different info within the messages. The Times agreed to not disclose the federal government that carried out the investigation.
“Huawei conducts business ethically and with integrity, and complies with all applicable laws and regulations in every country and region in which we operate,” the corporate stated in a press release.
Pavlos Marinakis, a Greek authorities spokesman, stated Huawei’s expertise had a restricted presence within the nation’s new telecom networks.
“There has never been, whatsoever, any direct or indirect influence by said company in government policy decisions, agreements and/or contracts,” he stated in an e mail.
Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, has such an affinity for Europe that the corporate’s campus in Dongguan, China, contains replicas of buildings in Paris and Heidelberg, Germany. The firm has operated in Europe for over 20 years, promoting switches, antennas and different tools for wi-fi networks, in addition to shopper gadgets like smartphones and tablets.
European telecom suppliers, together with Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, have purchased Huawei’s gear, which has tended to be cheaper than merchandise from rivals like Ericsson and Nokia. Roughly 23 % of Huawei’s $92 billion in income final yr got here from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, up 13 % from a yr earlier.
Huawei constructed a strong lobbying operation in Europe, hiring influential political and business figures, in addition to donating to charities, universities and different native initiatives. Those efforts have helped the corporate’s standing within the area, with many European governments hesitating to embrace the U.S. effort to stymie gross sales and take away Huawei tools from older mobile networks.
A assessment of 31 European nations exhibits that Huawei and different Chinese distributors accounted for greater than 50 % of kit associated to high-speed 5G networks on the finish of 2022, in keeping with Strand Consult, a telecom-focused analysis agency. Britain and Sweden have severely restricted Huawei from their latest networks, whereas Germany has indicated it could tighten its guidelines in opposition to the corporate’s gear. Italy and Spain are amongst people who have continued shopping for from Huawei, the agency stated.
“The story is how Huawei is navigating the European landscape to try to maintain the position they have,” stated John Strand, the chief government of Strand Consult. “They are playing all the cards they can play.”
Greece has been a conundrum. It has reliably defended Beijing’s pursuits within the European Union, significantly after the 2008 world monetary disaster, when China offered monetary assist for initiatives such because the port of Piraeus, which a Chinese state firm now owns. More not too long ago, although, Greece has reoriented itself extra towards the West.
The nation has additionally taken a contradictory stance on Huawei. It has not banned the agency’s merchandise, however the authorities and companies within the nation have tried distancing themselves from the Chinese firm.
In 2020, Greece joined the Clean Networks initiative, a voluntary and nonbinding settlement to keep away from utilizing expertise from authoritarian governments, which the Trump administration spearheaded. Greece’s three largest wi-fi community operators have additionally turned extra to Huawei’s rivals, Ericsson and Nokia, to construct new 5G networks.
Still, Huawei’s gross sales in Greece rose 56 % final yr to 258 million euros ($273 million), in keeping with Greek regulatory filings. The firm offered expertise for the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, the state-owned TV and radio broadcaster, in addition to the general public well being care service and the port of Piraeus.
‘Ask for Support’
As scrutiny of Huawei elevated, the corporate was on the defensive, in keeping with the messages obtained by The Times.
In 2020, firm executives in Greece mentioned a letter circulated by European Parliament members that known as for a ban of Huawei merchandise. Jacky Chen, a senior government within the area, requested Theo Tamvakidis, a supervisor in Greece, to talk with Eva Kaili and Maria Spyraki, two Greek members of the European Parliament.
“Ask for support,” Mr. Chen stated in a message. “Don’t make Huawei trouble in E.U. level if possible.”
Mr. Tamvakidis responded, “I think I can still convince her,” referring to Ms. Kaili and describing her as a good friend he had recognized for years.
It’s unclear if Huawei spoke to the 2 policymakers. Ms. Kaili was arrested final yr as a part of a corruption scandal, accused of accepting bribes from Qatar. She has denied wrongdoing.
In an interview, Mr. Tamvakidis stated Huawei was always “trying to convince people we are not a threat to society, that we are not a public menace.”
Ms. Kaili and Ms. Spyraki didn’t reply to requests for remark.
At different occasions, Huawei hastened to assist Greek authorities officers with their private expertise, in keeping with the communications.
In July 2021, Mr. Tamvakidis rushed to discover a substitute system for an unnamed immigration official who had contacted him a couple of damaged display screen on a Mate X, a foldable smartphone that retailed for greater than €2,000. Huawei had given it to him as a “present,” in keeping with the messages.
“He uses it only for making photos with his Huawei laptop we gave him,” Mr. Tamvakidis stated within the messages.
Under Greek regulation, it’s unlawful for individuals within the non-public sector to supply presents to authorities officers in alternate for favors. Government ministers, members of Parliament and civil servants additionally can not settle for presents that might be thought of linked to their official duties, stated Stefanos Loukopoulos, director of Vouliwatch, a authorities watchdog group in Athens.
High-ranking officers can settle for sure ceremonial presents price lower than €200, however costlier gadgets have to be turned over to the federal government. Declaring presents is obligatory for Greek ministers beneath a 2021 regulation, however the registry has not been made public, Mr. Loukopoulos stated.
“Greece has on paper a very solid anti-corruption and anti-bribery framework,” he stated. But transparency is sort of nonexistent, he added, and enforcement of the legal guidelines is “very problematic.”
‘A Special Case’
In 2020, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led a U.S. delegation to Greece to finish a expertise and science settlement between the nations, Huawei executives mentioned having somebody current in the course of the negotiations to assist take away references to cybersecurity and Chinese firms.
“We discussed with Adonis and took it out,” Mr. Tamvakidis wrote to a colleague a number of months after the summit.
Mr. Tamvakidis was referring to Adonis Georgiadis, a senior Greek minister who sat subsequent to Mr. Pompeo to signal the 2020 settlement within the port metropolis Thessaloniki. Whether Mr. Georgiadis influenced the negotiations in Huawei’s favor is unclear, however the firm had fostered a relationship with him for years, in keeping with the inner information and public info.
Huawei workers mentioned how Mr. Georgiadis, who was the minister of growth on the time, obtained gadgets from the corporate whereas working as a authorities official. He additionally posted photos of his visits to Huawei’s workplaces and occasions on social media. The nonbinding 2020 settlement signed by Mr. Pompeo and Greek officers, which was geared toward strengthening tech and scientific collaboration, didn’t finally point out cybersecurity or Chinese firms.
Mr. Pompeo declined to remark.
Mr. Georgiadis, who’s an ally of Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, stated he was not concerned in specifics of the tech-science settlement and had no communication with Huawei earlier than it was signed. He stated he had been childhood mates with Mr. Tamvakidis and by no means accepted presents from Huawei, however purchased “two or three” gadgets for members of the family with retail receipts. He declined to offer copies of the receipts.
“I never had, or still have, no special relationship with that company,” he stated in an e mail. “No agreement, investment, contract, concession or project was rendered to Huawei during my term of office.”
Mr. Tamvakidis stated he didn’t recall the specifics of the 2020 settlement however stated Huawei may need been “informed that nothing was inside that would be of danger.” He didn’t say who had offered that info.
Mr. Tamvakidis stated that he had helped facilitate Huawei gadgets for Mr. Georgiadis, together with for a member of the family, however that the devices had not been supplied free. He stated the gross sales had been invoiced, however didn’t present copies. Government officers typically obtained gadgets earlier than they had been publicly launched or at discounted costs, he stated.
“There was nothing in exchange,” he stated. “Huawei is very sensitive about this.”
Soon after Mr. Pompeo’s go to to Greece, Mr. Georgiadis, who’s now the minister of labor, got here up once more in messages between Huawei officers.
“Adonis needs two more watches. GT Pro. He loved it,” Mr. Tamvakidis wrote in October 2020. Later that month, Mr. Georgiadis was photographed sporting what gave the impression to be a Huawei watch.
In a 2021 alternate, Huawei workers mentioned changing a damaged telephone for Mr. Georgiadis’s son.
“Adonis is a special case,” Mr. Tamvakidis wrote.
Paul Mozur contributed reporting.