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UK court jails Berlin embassy guard for spying for Russia

February 17, 2023

David Ballantyne Smith was given a 13-year jail sentence for breaking the UK's Official Secrets Act. He was arrested in a British-German sting operation and extradited to London.

The Union Jack flag waves at the the British embassy in Berlin, Germany on August 11, 2021
David Ballantyne Smith was a driver for the UK embassy in BerlinImage: Michael Sohn/AP Photo/picture alliance

A British man who passed intelligence to Russia while working as a security guard at the British Embassy in Berlin was jailed for 13 years and 2 months on Friday.

David Ballantyne Smith, 58 and originally from Paisley in western Scotland, had previously pleaded guilty to eight offenses under the UK's Official Secrets Act after being caught in a sting operation in August 2021.

Smith, who had worked at the embassy for five years, admitted passing information to General Major Sergey Chukhrov, the Russian military attache to Berlin.

During sentencing at the Old Bailey Court in London, Judge Mark Wall said that Smith had "developed anti-British and anti-Western feelings" during his employment and that his co-workers had "formed the impression you were more sympathetic to Russia" and to President Vladimir Putin.

Wall described how Smith would go into offices in the embassy while it was empty at night and take pictures of files marked "secret."

"You were paid by the Russians for your treachery," the judge told him, rejecting Smith's evidence that he felt remorse as "no more than self-pity."

The charges for which Smith was sentenced involved conduct between 2020 and 2021, but Wall noted that his "subversive activities had begun two years before."

Smith wanted to damage UK's interests

During his trial, it was revealed that Smith collected highly sensitive information, including "secret" government communications with Prime Minister Boris Johnson from two cabinet ministers.

The court heard he made several videos of sensitive areas inside the Berlin embassy building.

Wall had previously dismissed Smith's claims that he had passed intelligence only twice in order to cause "embarrassment" to the UK.

The military veteran "was motivated by his antipathy towards Britain and intended to damage this country's interests by acting as he did," the judge said during the trial.

Smith apologized for 'grievance'

Earlier this week, Smith told the court that he started collecting confidential information during a dispute with colleagues and while suffering from depression "to give the embassy a bit of a slap.

"I can only apologize for any distress I've caused to anyone," he said. "I didn't set out to harm anyone in any way. I just had a bit of a grievance and I just wanted to embarrass the embassy."

Smith denied that he was anti-UK or pro-Russian Putin, adding: "My thoughts on Mr. Putin are neither here nor there."

He also said he had served in Britain's Royal Air Force for 12 years.

After British and German authorities found out about his spying, they formed a plot to try to catch Smith in the act.

Smith was arrested after communicating with two MI5 officers posing as Russian nationals "Dmitry" and "Irina."

He was later extradited to the UK.

mm/fb (AFP, Reuters)