Germany arrests British diplomat suspected of spying for Russia

German authorities say the man is suspected of passing documents to Russian intelligence in exchange for cash.

The man was employed as a local staff member at the United Kingdom's embassy in Berlin until his arrest [File: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters]

German police have arrested a British national who worked at the United Kingdom’s embassy in Berlin on suspicion of passing documents to the Russian intelligence service in exchange for cash, according to prosecutors.

German prosecutors said in a statement that the man’s apartment and workplace had been searched and he would be brought before an investigating judge later on Wednesday to determine whether he should be remanded in custody.

The statement added that the suspect, identified only as David S, “on at least one occasion passed on documents he acquired as part of his professional activities to a representative of Russian intelligence”.

“The accused received a cash payment in an unspecified amount in return,” it said. The suspect was believed to have been spying since November 2020 “at the latest”.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it was taking the case seriously, adding that spying on allied states on German soil is unacceptable.

A spokesman for the ministry said that it would closely monitor the German public prosecutors’ investigations.

‘Intelligence Agent activity’

The man was arrested on Tuesday in Potsdam, just outside Berlin.

He was employed as a local staff member at the UK embassy until his arrest, the result of a joint investigation by German and British authorities, prosecutors said.

British police confirmed in a statement that the 57-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of offences relating to being engaged in “Intelligence Agent activity” under German law and that the German authorities would retain primacy over the probe.

In May, the UK set out plans to crack down on hostile activity by foreign states, introducing a proposed law to give security services and law enforcement new powers to tackle growing threats.

UK spy chiefs say China and Russia have sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as interfere in politics.

In 2018, Russian agents were accused of carrying out an attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal on British soil.

Beijing and Moscow say the West is gripped with a paranoia about plots and deny they meddle abroad, seek to steal technology, carry out cyberattacks or sow discord.

Russian espionage

Germany has arrested several people in recent years accused of spying for Russia, but the capture of a citizen of a closely allied country is highly unusual.

In June, German police arrested a Russian scientist working at a German university accused of working for Russian secret services. He was also suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

In 2017, German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Moscow is at loggerheads with several Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

In June, Italy said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needs to protect itself from Russian “interference”.

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police selling confidential military documents from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Berlin, said relations between the UK, European Union and Russia were currently at a “poor state … given the level of activity that has happened over recent years involving members of the Russian intelligence services”.

“That’s the accusation from Western governments, both in the EU, UK and others … that Russian officials, representatives and intelligence service operatives have been active … in parts of the EU and certainly the UK,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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