UK embassy guard in Berlin pleads guilty to spying for Russia

Prosecutors said David Ballantyne Smith, 58, was motivated to spy because of his hatred of the UK and its embassy.

An aerial view over the British embassy (centre L) Hotel Adlon (lower L) the Acadamy of Arts and the U.S. Embassy (top) between the Holocaust memorial (top L) and the public square Pariser Platz with the Brandenburg Gate (top R) towards the Tiergarten in Berlin October 18, 2013. Documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden show that Britain's surveillance agency is operating a network of "electronic spy posts" from within a stone's throw of the Bundestag and German chancellor's office, the Independent reported. NSA documents, in conjunction with aerial photographs and information about past spying activities in Germany, suggest that Britain is operating its own covert listening station close to the German parliament, and Chancellor Angela Merkel's offices in the Chancellery, using hi-tech equipment housed on the embassy roof, the British newspaper reported. Picture taken October 18. REUTERS/ Grahn (GERMANY - Tags: CITYSPACE POLITICS)
An aerial view of the UK embassy (centre left) in Berlin in 2013 [File: Grahn/Reuters]

A British man who worked at the United Kingdom’s embassy in Berlin has pleaded guilty to eight offences under the Official Secrets Act relating to passing on information useful to Russia.

David Ballantyne Smith, who lived in Potsdam, Germany and was employed as a security guard at the embassy in Berlin, was extradited to the UK from Germany following his arrest by German police in August 2021.

The 58-year-old pleaded guilty to eight offences on November 4.

Judge Mark Wall lifted restrictions on reporting Smith’s pleas on Friday after the prosecution indicated it will not seek a trial on a ninth charge to which Smith pleaded not guilty.

Smith appeared at the Old Bailey in London last week and pleaded guilty to one charge of passing information about UK civil servants to Major General Sergey Chukhurov, described in the prosecution indictment as the Russian military attaché to Berlin, between October and December 2020.

He also admitted to seven other charges relating to collecting information which might be “useful to an enemy, namely the Russian state”, including material “relating to the operation and layout of the British embassy in Berlin”.

Searches of his electronic devices found the draft of a letter dated May 2020 in which he offered his services to a Russian diplomat.

Prosecutors said Smith – who was said to have lived beyond his means in Germany – was motivated by a hatred of the UK and its embassy, where he had worked for eight years, and had expressed sympathy with Russian authorities.

They claimed he was angry the embassy flew the rainbow flag in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

Smith’s lawyer Matthew Ryder told the court there is “a very large difference between the (prosecution) and Mr Smith about his motivation”.

“His intention and why he did what he did and the seriousness of the allegations as the (prosecution) put them are strongly disputed by Mr Smith,” Ryder added.

Smith faces a maximum jail term of 14 years for spying.

A hearing is expected to take place in February 2023 to determine the basis on which Smith will be sentenced.

Source: News Agencies