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German ex-soldier found guilty of spying for Russia

By AFP

May 27, 2024 09:39 PM


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A German former soldier was sentenced to three and a half years in jail on Monday for sharing secret military information with Russia in the wake of the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

A court in Duesseldorf found the defendant, named only as Thomas H., guilty of passing on information on his own initiative from his post in the military procurement service.

The 54-year-old had admitted the crime during his trial, claiming he was hoping to obtain information in return that would help him get his family to safety in time in the event of the conflict escalating into a nuclear war.

The espionage case is one of several uncovered in Germany since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Prosecutors had accused Thomas H. of photographing old training documents related to munitions systems and aircraft technology and dropping the material through the letterbox of the Russian consulate in Bonn.

The defendant "approached the Russian general consulate in Bonn and the Russian embassy in Berlin and offered his cooperation" in May 2023, prosecutors said.

"He passed on information he had obtained in the course of his professional activities for it to be passed on to a Russian intelligence service."

 Thomas H. admitted at the opening of his trial in April that the accusations against him were "broadly" accurate.

"It was wrong. I stand by that," he said.

Thomas H. said his concern about a possible escalation in the war in Ukraine led him to reach out to the Russian side.

More precisely, he was worried about the possibility that deliveries of heavy weapons systems by Berlin to Ukraine would draw Germany into the conflict.

The former soldier's aim was to obtain information before a possible nuclear escalation in the conflict in order to bring his family to safety in time, he said.

The apocalyptic concern was the reason he landed on the "stupid idea" to reach out to Russian authorities.

During the trial, the suspect had indicated dissatisfaction with the government in Berlin, and a perceived lack of concern for the safety of German citizens.

He also cited complaints over his health after many hard years working for the army and long-term side effects from the coronavirus vaccine.

His various worries led him into a "vicious circle", he said, adding that he could no longer justify his actions to himself.

 The presiding judge said Thomas H. appeared to be suffering from a general "disaffection".

He had approached political parties that were opposed to the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine -- "regardless of whether they were on the left or the right", he said.

He eventually joined the far-right AfD but has since left.

Until his arrest in August 2023, Thomas H. had been a career soldier, working at the army's Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support Department.

The department, which has about 12,000 employees, has seen its workload increase substantially since the outbreak of the Ukraine war, as the government stages a wide-ranging overhaul of the army after years of neglect.

Germany has been on high alert for Russian spies against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and soaring tensions between Moscow and the West.

In April, investigators arrested two German-Russian men on suspicion of spying for Russia and planning attacks in Germany -- including on US army targets -- to undermine military support for Ukraine.

A former German intelligence officer is on trial in Berlin, accused of handing information to Moscow that showed Germany had access to details of Russian mercenary operations in Ukraine. He denies the charges.

In November 2022, a German man was handed a suspended sentence for passing information to Russian intelligence while serving as a German army reserve officer.

Russian authorities for their part have levelled treason charges against dozens of people accused of aiding Ukraine and the West since the invasion.


AFP


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