A son of D66 party leader Sigrid Kaag, a sister of PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher and the daughter of CDA prominent Pieter Omtzigt. All of them are on a list of a Chinese company that is said to have close ties with the Chinese intelligence services. This is evident from a dataset that has been viewed by the NOS.
In addition to names and information about many hundreds of prominent Dutch people, the database therefore in a large number of cases also contains information about the relatives of what data company Zhenhua calls “overseas key figures”.
On Monday it became clear that Zhenhua, a private Chinese company on paper, has brought together the data of approximately 2.4 million people abroad in an extensive database. Now it becomes clear that that Overseas Key Information Database there are also more than 700 Dutch people.
Political ‘key figures’
Leaked spreadsheets, first released through the Australian Financial Review and the British Telegraph, contain many well-known names. From Prince Constantijn to a daughter of broker and TV presenter Harry Mens: the list is diverse.
Members of Parliament such as Sjoerd Sjoerdsma of D66 and Henk Nijboer of the PvdA, Member of the Senate Henk Otten are some of the political “key figures” who come up, accompanied by a wide range of (former) Dutch MEPs, deputies and mayors, in several cases extended with their relatives.
In the Dutch columns of the dataset, for example, mention is made of one of the two daughters of former Minister of Finance and former CEO of ABN Amro Gerrit Zalm. The same applies to the son of former minister Jan Pronk. The name of the 15-year-old daughter of former Infrastructure Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen also appears in the file, which would have been created in the second half of 2018.
Former politician André Rouvoet, now chairman of the umbrella organization GGD / GHOR Nederland, has his wife and daughter included in the database. The brother of the mayor of Arnhem, Ahmed Marcouch, and family members of SER chairman Mariëtte Hamer are also on Zhenhua’s list.
With the help of self-developed software, the Chinese data company ‘scrapes’ information from the internet about the ‘key figures’, according to publicly available sources. The main buyer would be the army. In addition to government websites and company profiles, the information used comes from social media profiles such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Based on the Dutch dataset, there are no indications that use was made of non-public sources. Zhenhua previously stated in an internal speech that more than 90 percent of military intelligence can be obtained from public sources.
At first glance, the database mainly concerns digital crumbs. Sometimes briefly, sometimes with more complete information about education or career, often supplemented with links to profile photos. In addition, public registers of, among others, Rechtspraak.nl and Interpol appear to have been consulted.
As a result, the name of Jan des Bouvrie probably came to the fore. An explanation mentions the alleged tax evasion of the interior designer. Des Bouvrie settled the case a few years ago for 25,000 euros, something which is also mentioned in the documents.
Drug criminals and war criminals
Several serious drug criminals are on the list, as well as war criminals who have been convicted by the Yugoslavia Tribunal in The Hague, including Ratko Mladic. He is stuck in Scheveningen.
Whether and to whom the data on the key figures in the Netherlands was sold by Zhenhua is unclear. It also remains unclear with what intention the company selected these 700 names, including several prominent religious persons and various top figures from the Dutch defense system.
Analysts from Australian consultancy Internet 2.0 and researcher Christopher Balding, who shared the information with NOS, argue, based on Zhenhua’s corporate documents, that the company has close ties with Chinese authorities, including a company directly under the umbrella of the Central Propaganda Department. falls.
‘I work in a daycare center’
Multiple attempts to reach Zhenhua and founder Wang Xuefeng failed. A phone call to an employee’s mobile number is answered by a Chinese woman who says she has never heard of the company. “I work in a daycare center,” she says. “No, I’m not in Shenzhen,” the city where the company is headquartered. Her phone number comes directly from one of the brochures in which the company advertises its services. LinkedIn profiles and websites affiliated with Zhenhua have since been taken offline.
Company launches and presentations of the company previously filed by the analysts provide unprecedented glimpses into the ambitions of the Chinese data collection frenzy, in which the authorities appear to be giving the private sector plenty of room. Zhenhua claims to be specialized in “gathering intelligence” and “monitoring public opinion”, using data from “more than 200 countries, in 28 languages”.
The company sees the sifting through and integration of freely accessible data on social media as a “cost-effective weapon in an intelligence war,” with the company appearing to hint at opportunities and threats in analyzing and disseminating misinformation.