British embassy guard who spied for Russia jailed for 'treachery'

February 17, 2023 11:54 PM AEDT | By Reuters
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By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) -A former security guard at the British embassy in Berlin who passed highly sensitive information to Russia and was paid for his "treachery" was jailed for more than 13 years in a London court on Friday.

David Ballantyne Smith, 58, collected confidential information for more than three years, including a "secret" letter from ministers to then-prime minister Boris Johnson and other sensitive documents.

Judge Mark Wall said Smith was motivated by his anti-British and pro-Russian views.

"I am sure that you committed these crimes intending to assist Russia... Your motive in assisting them was to damage British interests," the judge said.

"You were paid by the Russians for your treachery."

Wall sentenced Smith to 13 years and two months at London's Old Bailey.

Smith had pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act involving conduct between 2020 and 2021. But the judge said that his "subversive activities" had begun two years earlier.

Nick Price, head of the Crown Prosecution Service's Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said Smith was motivated by "greed and a hatred of our country".

"That hatred was palpable and led him into engaging in what can only be described as really despicable behaviour," he said outside the court.


Prosecutor Alison Morgan said on Monday that Smith sent a letter containing "highly sensitive information" about the embassy and its staff to General Major Sergey Chukhrov, the Russian military attaché to Berlin, in November 2020.

The letter, written on British embassy-headed notepaper, provided the names, home addresses and phone numbers of embassy staff and enclosed documents authored by the British embassy's lead officer dealing with Russia, Morgan said.

The discovery of that letter prompted a joint investigation between British and German authorities, which Wall described as a "sting operation".

This first involved getting an MI5 officer to pose as "Dmitry", a Russian national providing assistance to Britain.

Smith was later approached by "Irina", who told him that she needed assistance as someone had "passed information to the British and the information could be damaging to Russia".

In hidden camera footage played to the court, "Irina" asks if Smith can help and if he will meet her again and he replies: "I need to speak to someone and then, once that person can then confirm something, I'm willing to meet again."

Wall said Smith "could only have been referring to checking with someone at the Russian embassy to verify that she was genuine" and this was evidence he had an ongoing contact there.

Smith was arrested the day after meeting "Irina" in August 2021. A search of his home in Potsdam, Germany, recovered a USB stick which contained several photos of embassy staff and diplomatic passports.

He also filmed a number of sensitive documents he found in trays, including a November 2020 letter from then-trade minister Liz Truss and then-business minister Alok Sharma to Johnson, which was classified as "secret".

Smith told the court he was ashamed of what he had done and said he had filmed the documents after drinking "seven pints of beer" and that it "seemed like a good idea at the time".

But the judge rejected Smith's evidence that he felt remorse, saying: "Your regrets are no more than self-pity."

(Reporting by Sam Tobin, Editing by Kylie MacLellan, Raissa Kasolowsky and Nick Macfie)


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