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China investigates Canadian couple suspected of stealing state secrets

By Katie Hunt, CNN
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
The couple's cafe was located near the border with North Korea
The couple's cafe was located near the border with North Korea
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Canadian nationals Kevin and Julia Garratt are suspected of stealing state secrets
  • The couple run a coffee shop near China's border with North Korea
  • The pair's whereabouts are unclear
  • Canadian Embassy in Beijing says it's ready to offer assistance

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A Canadian couple living in a city close to China's border with North Korea are under investigation for the suspected theft of state secrets, state media said Tuesday.

Kevin and Julia Garratt, who run a cafe in the northeastern city of Dandong, are suspected of stealing information about China's "military and national defense research," according to a brief report released by China's official news agency Xinhua.

It is not clear whether the pair have been detained. Calls to their café, Peter's Coffee House, were not answered on Tuesday morning.

Xinhua said that the State Security Bureau in Dandong was investigating the case.

Officials at the Ministry of Public Security in Dandong, when contacted by CNN, said they were not aware of the situation.

The couple had been living in China since 1984 and had been running the coffeehouse, named after their youngest son, since 2008, according to Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

Peter Garrett, who still lives in China, told Canadian broadcaster CBC that he was taken in for questioning by authorities on Tuesday.

He called his parents' arrest "ridiculous," and, alluding to suspicions that the action taken against his parents might have been motivated by their religious convictions, played down their evangelism.

"My parents are Christians, yes, and they don't hide that," the 21-year-old told CBC's "As it happens" radio show. "But they're not doing anything against the Chinese government or trying to proselytize or anything like that."

The couple's other son, Simeon, lives in Canada. He told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post that the accusation of "stealing state secrets on China's military and national defense research", was "wildly absurd" and "crazy."

He described his parents as "openly Christian" and said that they were involved in sending food aid to North Korea. He told the newspaper that the accusations "(sound) like something somebody made up," he said. "I really don't know why. It's just so absurd."

The Canadian Embassy in Beijing said it was aware of the reports and consular officials stood ready to provide assistance if required, it added.

"We are gathering information and monitoring developments closely," a spokesperson said in an email.

The cafe's website says it's "only meters from the border of North Korea and Dandong's Friendship Bridge" and a "perfect stop off while en route or returning from the Hermit Kingdom."

The cafe also held a weekly "English corner" to helps locals wanting to practice their language skills.

The investigation comes at a time of strained ties between Beijing and Ottawa after the Canadian government last week publicly blamed China for hacking government computers, the Globe and Mail reported.

Report: Chinese journalist detained for allegedly leaking state secrets

CNN's Zhang Dayu in Beijing and Euan McKirdy in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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