Son says China espionage inquiry 'mindboggling'

AP News
Posted: Aug 08, 2014 3:42 PM

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The son of a Canadian couple arrested in China on suspicion of stealing state secrets about military and national defense research said Friday the situation is "mindboggling."

Kevin Garratt, 54, and Julia Dawn Garratt, 53, are being investigated by the state security bureau in China's northeastern city of Dandong, which borders North Korea, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Son Simeon Garratt, 27, said his parents ran a coffee shop and did Christian aid work for North Koreans. He said there must have been a mistake and hopes his parents will be released.

"It really is bizarre," he said in a telephone interview in Vancouver. "There's no possible scenario I can think of that makes it plausible."

The accusations against the couple were reported Monday, nearly a week after Canada accused a China-sponsored hacker of infiltrating Canada's National Research Council, a top research and development organization. China's Foreign Ministry expressed strong displeasure over the allegation, urging Canada to withdraw the "groundless" accusation.

Canadian consular officials were able to secure a meeting with the Garratts on Wednesday, meeting separately with each of them for half an hour, their son said.

"We are in contact with local Chinese authorities and the family, and are monitoring developments closely," Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesman John Babcock said.

Simeon Garratt said his parents were at a restaurant Aug. 4 when security police apprehended them, he said.

"They've been separated ever since," he said. "My dad is probably freaking out wondering if my mom is OK, and she's probably doing the same."

He said his mother reported their conditions were fine.

He believes his parents are being held in non-government compounds in Dandong. Simeon Garratt said legal documents, computer equipment, phones, an electric piano, money and two safes have been taken from the couple's home and coffee shop located just a few hundred meters from the North Korean border.

He said his brother Peter is in China studying languages on a Chinese scholarship and has received brief written communications from their parents.

He said his parents' experience with China would help them.

"They know how the Chinese government works. They're not scared for their lives or anything like that," he said. "It's going to be a process."

The couple had worked with North Star Aid, whose website said the British Columbia-registered charity seeks to help North Koreans primarily through providing humanitarian aid. Simeon Garratt said his parents made no secret of their faith but did not flaunt it in China, where proselytizing is against the law.

He said they worked on getting school supplies, cooking oil and food into North Korea.

The coffee shop, Peter's Coffee House, is located within sight of the Friendship Bridge linking China to North Korea. It's known for its North American cuisine and attracts a mix of tourists, students and locals.