A former French intelligence agent facing treason charges was reportedly ensnared by a Chinese "honeytrap" when he began an affair with an interpreter in Beijing, it emerged.

The retired spy, named as Henri M, 71, and another former operative, Pierre-Marie H, 66, are accused of passing "information detrimental to fundamental national interests" to a foreign power.

According to a report in Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Henri M fell for a woman who worked as an interpreter for the French ambassador in Beijing after he was posted there in 1997 as station chief for France's DGSE foreign intelligence service. Security sources confirmed the report.

The interpreter, who has not been named, was reportedly suspected of being an informant.

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Pierre Morel, the ambassador, became concerned about the relationship and asked for Henri M to be recalled to France in 1998.

Henri M left the intelligence service and started a business importing Chinese furniture.

He returned to Beijing in 2003, where he married the former interpreter the following year.

The couple moved to Hainan Island, which serves as China's nuclear submarine base, and Henri M opened a restaurant.

Many questions remain about why he and Pierre-Marie H were only arrested two decades after Henri M first came under suspicion.

Franck Renaud, author of a 2010 book that alluded to the scandal, said: "Did the DGSE want to avoid a crisis and, at the same time, let Chinese intelligence believe that Henri M might be a double agent feeding them false information?"

Florence Parly, the French Defence Minister, confirmed the charges but declined to specify whether the foreign power involved was China.