Did China attempt to influence Czech audience by sending possible fake video to Czech media?

On  April 30 2019 several Czech media like Aktuálně.cz and Expres.cz received a remarkable email supposedly sent by a Hong Hong non-profit online newspaper. The e-mail stated that Hong Kong Free Press had received a video showing Czech president Miloš Zeman helping an old woman while he was about to enter a restaurant. The video according the text in the email was made during the April 2019 statevisit of the Czech president to China.

However the spokesman for the  Czech president stated this was a fake video!

Could it be China wanted to boost the image of the controversial president, important for China as a gateway to Europe?

The email is shown below.

Some of the Czech journalists who received this email did not trust the email and contacted the person who’s name was listed as the sender of the email. Kris Cheng, while listed as the sender, however did not sent this email.

The imposer used a fake email address using the domain hongkongpress.news. Hong Kong Free Press uses a different email addresses ending with the @hongkongfp.com domainname. When hongkongpress.news is typed in a browser it forwards the request to the real website of Hong Kong Free Press.

By looking at the DNS records of the domain we might find out what kind of emailserver is used. Mail is delivered to a server which has a so-called MX-record in the DNS.

For the fake domain Outlook.com is used to read and send mail. This makes clear the imposer does not want to be found.

The spokesman of the Czech president Jiří Ovčáček stated via Twitter the video was fake. Czech media provided some examples why the video would be fake. The president never travels in a Mercedes during visits to China, and the Czech flag is missing on the car. Also the old woman would normally not be able to sit next to the entrance as she would be removed by Chinese security.

The translated Tweet is a bit wierd as the video intend seems to be to give a positive image of the Czech president.

Also Hong Kong Free Press stated on Twitter the video is fake.

Some Czech media reported about the fake video like EuroZprávy.cz

But is the video indeed fake? And why would someone sent such a video to Czech media?

Lets investigate! 

The email was sent using hongkongpress.news as the address of the sender. The registration of this domain was done at April 29, 2019. Just one day before many Czech media received the email. A clear indication the domain was setup for this purpose only. The details of the domain makes clear the person who registered the domain did not want to be known. All details are redacted for privacy.  The domain was created at 16:55 local Beijing or Hong Kong time.

This is the video which was sent to severall Czech media. It shows president Milos Zeman who just got out of his car and walks towards what seems to be a Chinese restaurant. An old lady sitting next to the entrance is requested by a policeman to move. However Zeman makes a gesture using his stick to let the woman stay. He then hands over his stick to the woman and gives her a box as a present.

At the request of journalist Kris Cheng people on Twitter started to geolocate the video. A large tower can be seen which looks very similar to the CCTV Tower, China Central Television tower,  in the Haidian district of Beijin  being the tallest structure in Beijing.

The license plate of the black Mercedes provides another clue of the location this video was made.

The two cars seen in the video are possibly Mercedes-AMG S65. A photo taken in 2013 shows Mercedes cars used in a convoy carrying a North Korean envoy. This show a 2012 photo of a Mercedes used as diplomatic car in Beijing. Many more photos of Mercedes cars can be seen related to state visits of foreign leaders to China.

使 means diplomats, 132 refers to Czech Republic so that matches the license plate on the car.

Kris Cheng found out these are Chinese diplomatic car plates for the Czech embassy. However, it is in pre-May 2017 style when China required foreign missions to change them. Above: new; Below: old license plate.

The name of the restaurant could not be found using open sources on Internet. Judged by the Chinese characters on the building it seems one of many Beijing restaurants where duck can be eaten.

As the president spokesman denied Zeman visited this restaurant during his April 2019 visit to China and the license plates indicate an event before May 2017 it seems the event did not happen in April 2019.

Was his scene staged or is this a recording of a true but earlier event? It seems almost impossible to stage such a scene as an indivudual in China as expensive cars  and a police escort would be needed.

This leaves two options:

  • the Chinese state  staged this scene using actors
  • this was a real scene happening in 2014 or 2015

The voice of Zeman can be heard on the video. I have not found any indications that for example Czech media wrote the voice heard on the video does not match that of Zeman. Also his face and way of walking match the real president Zeman.

Likely this is a scene of a previous visit of Zeman to China. He visited China on Oct. 24 to Oct. 27 in 2014 and again from Sep. 1 to Sep. 6 in 2015. At that time he also used a stick in his left hand. The reason there is no flag attached to the car could be because this was an unofficial visit to a restaurant.

Why was this video sent to Czech media?

Why would someone sent this video to Czech media? A possible answer is the relation between China and the Czech Republic, the position of Zeman towards China and his image in the Czech Republic.

Zeman has always been very positive towards China. In 2015 he was the only European Union leader to attend a military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. He publicly supported China’s claims over Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims as its territory. He labeled pro-Tibet protestors “mentally impaired individuals”. During his April 2019 visit, Zeman said West’s allegations of espionage against Huawei are not supported by evidence.

Czech Republic is a usefull gateway for China into Europe. CEFC China Energy, a private Chinese conglomerate, invested in real estate in the Czech Republic. In 2015 the company chairman Ye Jianming was named an advisor to Czech President Milos Zeman. However things went bad for Jianming early 2018.  He has been under detention in China since March 2018 on charges of bribery

CEFC holds a major stake in Czech leisure airline Travel Service. Travel Service has nearly full ownership of the Czech flag carrier CSA. Zeman stated he hopes Huawei will play a bigger role in the Czech Republic’s economic digitization and 5G deployment.

For Czech Republic as an export country China is very interesting. ŠKODA has a factory in China. Aircraft of Czech manufacturer Let are certified in China.

While Zeman is appreciated by Chinese leaders, domestic he is less popular. He has been accused of trying of meddling in and influencing courts’ judgments in cases where the President or his office had an interest. Some call him the European Donald Trump.

Conclusion

Using open source it is impossible to determine if this scene was staged or really happened. Likely it really happened around 2014/2015 and is now used by China in an attempt to help Zeman to boost his image in the Czech Republic to secure China’s access to Europe.


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