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Germany frees Russian spy

November 22, 2014

A Russian spy who was jailed in Germany with her husband last year has reportedly been released. Local media is speculating there may have been a prisoner swap deal struck with Moscow.

Heidrun Anschlag
Image: dapd

The 48-year-old woman, known only by the alias Heidrun Anschlag, was freed two days ago and deported to Russia after serving only part of her prison sentence, German media reported. Her husband, known as Andreas Anschlag, remains behind bars.

The married couple was arrested in October 2011 on suspicion of operating as Russian spies in Germany for more than two decades. In July 2013, they were found guilty of espionage by the higher regional court in Stuttgart. Andreas was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison, while his wife was given a 5 1/2-year sentence.

A spokeswoman for German federal prosecutors, speaking on condition of anonymity because of department rules, confirmed to news agency Associated Press on Saturday that Heidrun had been released. She said prosecutors agreed to waive the remainder of the sentence in view of her deportation.

Secrets, lies and intrigue

During last year's trial, the court heard the pair was planted in former West Germany in 1988 to spy on behalf of the Soviet Union's KGB secret service, and subsequently for its successor, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

The Anschlags worked with an informant in the Dutch Foreign Ministry to obtain hundreds of confidential documents from NATO and European Union containing political and military secrets. According to German media reports, they received a joint annual salary of nearly 100,000 euros ($130,000) for supplying the information.

Reportage Mikhail Bushuev
'Middle class existence:' the Anschlag's home in MichelbachImage: DW/M.Bushuev

In a case that reads like Cold War spy novel, the court heard how the couple left documents under trees, hid USB sticks in burrows and at other prearranged spots to be picked up by operatives based at the Russian consulate general in Bonn, the capital of former West Germany.

The secret agent duo also reportedly received commands through an agent radio network, and sent messages via satellite or by leaving comments under football videos on YouTube.

Double life

Heidrun and Andreas Anschlag were reportedly born in South America and used fake Austrian passports to enter West Germany in the late 80s. They led what prosecutors described as an inconspicuous "middle class existence" in the town of Meckenheim, near Bonn, before moving to Michelbach, a small community in the state of Hesse.

It was through a tip off from the United States that Germany's domestic intelligence services discovered the couple's secret activities.

Heidrun was caught writing down secret messages from a shortwave receiver at the time the police raided the couple's home and took them into custody.

Prisoner swap?

It's not clear why Heidrun was set free halfway through serving her prison sentence. According to German news magazine Spiegel, it's possible the Russian government paid the 500,000-euro bail set by the Stuttgart court to secure her release.

Anna Chapman
Anna Chapman was part of a high-profile spy swap in 2010Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Ekaterina Chesnokova/RIA Novosti

Weekly German magazine Focus, on the other hand, speculated Heidrun's premature release could have been made as part of an exchange of secret agents between Russia and Germany.

Shortly after the couple was convicted in 2013, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Moscow hoped to exchange the pair for at least one convict jailed in Russia on charges of spying for the West.

The exchange of captured agents between Western and Eastern powers was common practice during the Cold War. In perhaps the most sensational spy swap since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 10 Russian secret agents - including the glamorous female spy Anna Chapman - were returned in 2010 in exchange for four Westerners held by the Kremlin.

nm/shs (dpa, AFP)