Fake Russians snared Berlin Embassy spy in sting operation, court told

The Scot is alleged to have received substantial sums of money in exchange for sensitive information from the embassy in Germany.

Fake Russians snared Berlin Embassy spy from Paisley in sting op, court told iStock

A spy who passed secrets from the British embassy in Berlin was caught in an undercover sting by involving fake Russian operatives, a court has heard.

David Ballantyne Smith, 58, who is originally from Paisley, was driven by an intense hatred for his own country and by pro-Putin views when he set out to pass classified information to the hostile foreign state, the Old Bailey was told.

The Scot is alleged to have received substantial sums of money in exchange for sensitive information from the embassy in Germany.

The extent of his activities, spanning four years, were uncovered following his arrest in Potsdam, where he was living in August 2021.

Among information found by police was an image of a letter classified as “secret” to the Prime Minister from the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.

In November last year, Smith pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act by committing an act prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state.

Setting out the prosecution case on Monday, Alison Morgan KC described how Smith’s activities were caught on camera during an undercover operation.

It was prompted by a letter Smith sent in November 2020 to a member of military staff at the Russian Embassy in Berlin, which suggested ongoing contact.

In the letter addressed to Major General Sergey Chukhrov, Smith issued a “small update about the British Embassy” including images of security passes of staff.

Smith was offered the chance to obtain “highly sensitive information” relating to a Russian “walk-in” informant called “Dmitry”.

A member of embassy staff asked him to escort his visitor as a favour, to which Smith replied: “Oh, it’s one of those.”

The court was shown CCTV footage of “Dmitry” arriving at the embassy on August 5 2021 and being put through security by Smith.

During a meeting with the staff member in a room with no sound-proofing, Dmitry explained he was tasked with monitoring social media in the west about Russia.

As part of the sting, Smith, who was hovering outside the door, was asked to copy a document Dmitry had brought with him and dispose of SIM card packaging.

Later in his security kiosk, Smith was shown on CCTV using a small camera to film about 45 seconds of footage capturing Dmitry’s visit saying: “This’ll do. I’ll get the rest tomorrow.”

On August 9, Smith was approached by another undercover operative called “Irina”, this time posing as an agent of the Russian intelligence service.

In covert video played in court, “Irina” accosted him at a tram stop and confided that somebody was passing on information that was “damaging to Russia”.

She said: “We need you to find out what’s happened and we think you can help us.”

Asked if he had any information, Smith said: “Just the usual run-of-the-mill b******t.”

He appeared sceptical, saying it had been “sprung on me” and he need to speak to “someone”.

He added: “I don’t trust the b******s I work for. Would you trust MI5 and MI6?”

Speaking in a strong Scottish accent, he went on to rant about his “boring” job, saying: “To tell the truth I don’t want to be there anymore. I don’t want to be in Germany. I’m stuck in the land of Nazi b******s.”

Ms Morgan said that following his interaction with Irina, Smith was arrested by German authorities on August 10.

It was alleged Smith received “substantial” amounts of cash in exchange for his spying activities.

An analysis of his finances in 2021 found an absence of cash withdrawals indicating Smith had an alternative source of income.

In addition, 800 euros in cash was seized following his arrest, the court was told.

Smith, who is married to a Ukrainian woman, began working at the embassy in 2016.

After his wife moved back to her home country in late 2018, the defendant’s behaviour changed and colleagues became concerned for his mental health.

He went from being “keen and polite” to expressing anti-UK and anti-German views, the court heard.

Ms Morgan said Smith also expressed views about the war in Ukraine and supported Russia.

Smith collected memorabilia at his flat, including German uniforms from the Second World War and a Russian flag.

The investigation uncovered evidence that from around 2018, Smith began collecting sensitive information from the embassy.

A draft letter in Russian dated May 14 2020 was found addressed to “Colonel Sivov” – a military attache at the Russian Embassy.

In it, Smith appeared to offer up a “sensitive” book from the defence section.

He wrote: “Knowing the Embassy, it will take some time before they even realise that it is missing.

“Obviously, I would like to remain anonymous for the time being, but I do have further information which I will send you later.

“I hope that you respect what I have written and understand my reasons for wishing to remain anonymous, since no-one wishes to get caught.”

During the hearing at the Old Bailey on Monday, the court heard that Smith had denied intending to “prejudice” the UK.

He claimed he wanted only to cause “inconvenience and embarrassment” to the British Embassy and did not receive any money.

But Ms Morgan said: “The defendant’s deliberate engagement with the Russian authorities by providing them with confidential and sensitive information demonstrates an inevitable and clear intention to cause prejudice to the UK.

“It is implausible to suggest that he only took possession of material within the context of a dispute with his employers or because he intended to expose security lapses.”

Mr Justice Murray is expected to rule on the defendant’s motivation later in the week after Smith gives evidence on Tuesday.

Smith faces a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for spying when he is sentenced on Friday.

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