A Briton who worked as a guard at the British Embassy in Berlin faced trial at London’s Old Bailey on Monday, over accusations of spying for Russia for about three years.
The 58-year-old former guard is alleged to have collected “highly sensitive information” and “secret” communication from the embassy in the German capital from March 2018 until August 2021.
Prosecutors accused him of sending a letter in November 2020 with “highly sensitive information about the British embassy and those who worked within it” to General Major Sergey Chukhrov, Russia’s military attache to Berlin. It contained the contact information and addresses of embassy staff.
He also allegedly passed along “secret” communications with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior cabinet ministers at the time.
Smith pleaded guilty to eight charges. They included violating the country’s Official Secrets Act.
How was Smith caught?
British and German authorities collaborated on a plot to catch the defendant after they became aware of the letter he sent the Russian military official.
First, a UK agent posed as a Russian citizen called “Dmitry,” who visited the embassy to pass on sensitive information. Smith filmed CCTV footage of “Dmitry” during his embassy visit and held on to a phone SIM given to him by UK officials who had instructed him to dispose of it.
Then, he was approached by another UK agent who posed as a Russian military intelligence agent named Irina.
“Irina” persuaded the defendant to meet her on a bench in central Berlin, pretending to collect information from him. The embassy guard was arrested shortly after the meeting.
Prosecutors said a USB stick containing photos of embassy staff and diplomatic passports was recovered from his home in Potsdam, Germany.
What motivated the defendant?
Smith said his actions aimed to cause “inconvenience and embarrassment” to Britain, yet denied any intention to cause “prejudice or any disadvantage” to the UK.
He also denied receiving payment in exchange for the information he collected.
The prosecution, however, argued that the defendant had a “clear intention to cause prejudice to the UK.” The prosecution said he had reported “strong anti-UK views” to colleagues and expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutor Alison Morgan told the court that the ex-guard had expressed “anti-West and anti-NATO views.”
“He expressed views about the war in Ukraine that were opposed to the Ukrainian government and supportive of Russia,” Reuters news agency quoted the prosecutor as saying.
The court is expected to issue its sentence on Friday. Smith could face up to 14 years in prison for spying.
Concerns about Russian spying activities have risen in western European countries, with many tried for espionage in recent months, particularly in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.
rmt/rs (AFP, Reuters)