Norway — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage (UPDATE)

“Frode must come home, and Norwegian authorities must do what they can to get him out. It is not a good signal when such a positive and distinguished bridge-builder like Frode is arrested, it is not a good sign.”

Kirkenes town Mayor Rune Rafaelsen

“Once again we see the effects of big politics hitting us here locally, and we demand an end to that!”

Father Torbjørn Brox Webber

“I would not characterise the case as a global attack on bilateral relations. We have a relationship with Norway which develops in different areas. These kind of things happen, and it is uncomfortable, [but] our national legislation provides for adequate measures.”

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova (December 28 2017)

February 6 2018 — Frode Berg, a 62 retired border inspector, was arrested by Russian security service agents in downtown Moscow on December 5th 2017. He is jailed  in isolation at the high-security Lefortovo prison.

On February 2, the Lefortovo District Court in Moscow  ordered that Frode Berg should remain in jail until May 5 2018.

Berg was allegedly caught receiving classified material about the Russian Navy that he is accused of planning to hand over to Norwegian and U.S. intelligence agencies. He denies the charges.

Update (April 23 2018) — Berg broke his silence and now claims that he was duped into working for Norway’s national intelligence agency. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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UPDATE (April 23 2018) — Things are not looking good for Frode Berg. He faces 20 years in prison on the spying charges and the case against him is very strong.

Berg told his defense attorneys that his trip to Moscow was likely orchestrated by Norway’s national intelligence agency Etterretningstjenesten (E-tjenesten).

Indeed, the 62 year-old retired border inspector now believes that he was duped into traveling several times to Russia for the agency.

“Frode Berg has been in despair for a long time over how he should handle the situation,” his Norwegian defense attorney Brynjulf Risnes told Dagbladet.

Berg earlier has refused to tell reporters who actually asked him to travel to Moscow.

“He felt loyalty to the Norwegian authorities and hoped they would stand up for him. Now Berg wants his version of the case to become known.”

Berg’s attorneys (Norwegian defense attorney Brynjulf Risnes and Russian attorney Ilja Novikov) describe the Russian authorities’ case against Berg as “strong.”

Russian officials believe that Berg was a spy, serving as a courier of information about Russian naval operations in the Arctic. But they will argue that he understood very little about the operation, hoping for a milder sentence.

Risnes and Novikov believe that the Norwegian spies made sure Berg knew as little as possible.

“Berg knew nothing about the contents of what he was carrying during his visits, and he wasn’t aware of the serious nature or the bigger picture. We believe it is in his interests to illuminate this now.”

END of UPDATE

Berg is charged by the FSB for espionage. Berg had with him €3,000 which he intended to send to a woman in Moscow.

So far, he does not want to reveal the names of the people who requested him to bring the money.

“I’m accused of something I haven’t done. I had no idea about this when I arrived to Moscow on December 4th [2017].

I was just going shopping Christmas presents and visit some friends. This came suddenly as a surprise. It is still unreal for me.”

The Berg case marks the first time since at least the Russian Revolution that a Norwegian has been arrested for espionage in Russia, according to Lars Rowe, a Russia specialist at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute outside Oslo.

Short Interview

Reporter: “You brought with you something to some Russian friends. That’s why you are sitting in custody?”

Frode: “Yes, I had. But nothing that is illegal here in Russia.”

Reporter: Can you tell who asked you to go to Moscow?

Frode: “No”

Reporter: What do you think about those who asked you to go here?

Frode: “… [5 seconds silent]…those who asked me… It was I who went to Moscow. I have been here many times with work, but I have never seen anything of Moscow.  This is the second time I tried to go to Moscow to see more of the city.  And to visit some friends.”

Reporter: Do you feel that you have been trapped into this case?

Frode: “Yes”

Reporter: By whom?

Frode: “That I can’t, will not say”

Reporter: What do you think about those who gave you this money and this material that you are jailed for?

Frode: I feel really misused. I have been fighting against anger and hate.

Statement from the Judge

“The court having considered the motion of FSB to extend the incarceration of Frode Berg – Norwegian, born on October 20, 1955, married, having grandchildren born […], doesn’t work, residing in Kirkenes, at #28 …L…street …. , no prior criminal record,  charged in accordance with article 276 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation based on the case materials the court hereby rules to extend incarceration for three months – the term totaling 5 months i.e up till May 5 2018. The ruling can be appealed at the Moscow City court within 2 days.”

Cash and Envelopes for Two Norwegians

Berg claims he’d been asked by two “Norwegian citizens” in Norway to carry the cash to Moscow, and mail it from a Moscow post office. Before he could do that, he was arrested while out walking on a street in Moscow December 5, and has been in custody ever since.

Berg has refused to identify the Norwegians who asked him to carry both the money and “several envelopes” to Moscow but Aftenposten reported he has revealed their identities to his Russian defense attorney Ilja Novikov, who has in turn sent the names back to Berg’s Norwegian attorney, Brynjulf Risnes.

That means the Russians also have the Norwegians’ names, since all communication between Berg and his Russian attorney is monitored.

Berg claims he’s done nothing illegal, and that it’s not illegal to travel with EUR 3,000.

“I can’t say anything about who gave me the money. It was me who traveled to Moscow, and I’ve been here in many connections.” [Views and News from Norway]

He added, though, that he now was battling the feelings of “anger and hate” in regards to those who gave him the money and documents that have caused him so much trouble.

 Tricked into a trap by Mr Z

Berg’s Russian defense attorney Ilja Novikov won’t rule out the possibility that he was tricked or “misused” by people connected to Norway’s own intelligence-gathering agencies.

“We still don’t know whether Berg walked into a trap, or whether was, without knowing it, actually involved in a real intelligence operation,” Novikov told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday.

Aftenposten reported that FSB’s written complaint about Berg claims the money was going to be sent to a Russian they’ve identified only as “Mr. Z.”

Berg said he thought he was supposed to send the money to someone named “Natasha,” but doesn’t remember her last name.

The Russians, according to Aftenposten, maintain that the mysterious “Mr Z” has spied on the Russian fleet in the Arctic for Norway. He has allegedly sent classified documents in the mail to addresses used by Norwegian intelligence  services. Mr Z allegedly received the addresses from Berg. It’s unclear whether the addresses are in Russia or Norway.

“Mr Z” reportedly is not, however, Aleksej Zjitnuk, a 24-year-old Russian who’s also been charged with spying.

One theory is that “Mr Z” has neither been charged nor jailed because he cooperated with FSB in luring Berg into a trap. [Views and News from Norway]

Big Politics Goes Local

People who know Beg are certain that he is not a spy.

“People are confused and puzzled, because Frode is a man who has stood up for the Norwegian-Russian cooperation, he is not the one you would expect behind bars,” argues Rune Rafaelsen, the Mayor of Kirkenes.

Torbjørn Brox Webber — a local priest and member of the Frode Berg Support Committee — admits that local Norwegians are afraid of traveling to Russia.

“It is very important that the good cross-border cooperation is preserved and strengthened.

This must not become a conflict between Oslo and Moscow, because also the Norwegian side has a considerable responsibility, not only for getting Frode back home, but also for normalizing the relationship with Russia.

Once again we see the effects of big politics hitting us here locally, and we demand an end to that!”

Border Inspector Frode Berg

REFERENCES

AN ARCTIC SPY MYSTERY : An arrest in Moscow shakes Norway’s far north — Washington Post (February 3 2018)

FSB’s arrest of Frode Berg resounds in Norwegian border town — The Barents Observer

Accused Norwegian spy feels ‘misused’ — Views and News from Norway

Berg fears he was duped into spying — Views and News from Norway (April 22 2018)

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Norway — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage

Norway — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage (UPDATE)

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