“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)
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.
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. Berg claims that he was duped into working for Norway’s national intelligence agency.
On October 30 2018, the Moscow City Court has upheld the expanded arrest until December 5 2018. On Friday (November 30 2018), the court decided to prolong his arrest for another two months. On January 30 2019, the Moscow City Court has extended Berg’s detention until April 5 2019. On April 16 2019, Frode Berg has been sentenced to 14 years, as requested by the prosecutor.
UPDATE (October 18 2019) — On this day next week, Frode Berg could be a free man. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
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UPDATE XIII (November 13 2019) — At this point, it appears likely that Russia, Norway and Lithuania have agreed to a spy swap.
On Thursday November 7 2019, Lithuania’s parliament passed legislation that could pave the way for a possible three-way spy exchange.
On November 11 2019, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda signed the new law.
Nausėda said the amendment was necessary in order for him to pardon a person convicted of a crime in Lithuania in exchange for a Lithuanian citizen prosecuted abroad who “acted in the interests of Lithuania”.
Today (November 13 2019), the Lithuanian Pardon Committee reviewed pardon applications for two Russian citizens.
The Committee recommends a pardon and the President will now announce his decision in the near future but no date was given.
According to RUMINT, Lithuania could transfer Nikolai Filipchenko, a Russian Federal Security Service agent convicted two years ago. The other Russian national involved is not known.
Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis, two Lithuanian citizens convicted in Russia in 2016 could be part of the spy swap, but note that Nausėda only mentioned one Lithuanian citizen.
The swap deal would also cover a Norwegian citizen sentenced in Russia and another Russian citizen. If true, the Norwegian citizen is almost certainly Frode Berg.
So, is there a deal? And what is it?
For what is worth, Intel Today believes that Russia and Lithuania agree to exchange a spy-convicted Russian against two Lithuanians and a Norwegian convicted in Russia.
END of UPDATE
Frode 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 .
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.
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?
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?
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!”
UPDATE I (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.”
UPDATE II (July 18 2018) — Russian investigators filed a motion with Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court seeking to extend detention of Norwegian citizen Frode Berg charged with espionage until October 5, the court’s spokesperson Yekaterina Krasnova has told RAPSI.
“According to media reports, the defendant was arrested when he received secret documents containing information on Russian navy. These papers were allegedly given to him by Russian national Alexey Zhitnyuk, who was detained in December on suspicion of treason. Berg has pleaded not guilty to spying.”
On Wednesday (July 18 2018), Lefortovsky district court in Moscow, behind closed doors, prolonged the custody period until September 18.
“Berg has according to his lawyer Ilya Novikov admitted that he was in Russia as a courier for the Norwegian intelligence service.
When arrested, Frode Berg carried two envelopes with €3,000 to be posted to a women named Natalia.
Berg says he was set up and denies being a spy. From behind bars in the court room on Wednesday, Frode Berg said to the newspaper VG that “Now I see an end to this.” He did not elaborate.” [Barents Observer]
According to Russian law, a person accused of espionage can be kept in custody for 18 months before charges has to be tried for court. Berg was arrested on December 5th, 2017.
Although his case is still under investigation, his lawyer Ilya Novikov believes that the investigation could come to an end in October.
UPDATE III (October 30 2018) — The court has rejected an appeal against the extension of his arrest, saying the decision was legitimate.
Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court earlier extended Berg’s arrest until December 5.
Berg’s Russian defense attorney Ilya Novikov is nevertheless optimistic that Berg will eventually be released.
“We expect a happy ending. We don’t think Frode Berg will have to sit for 20 years in a Russian prison. I hope that he’s now only months away from being able to go home.”
There had been hope that Berg might be subject to a spy swap after Norwegian authorities arrested a Russian in Oslo earlier this fall and charged him with espionage. However, he was recently released for lack of evidence.
UPDATE IV (November 30 2018) — On Friday (November 30 2018), the court decided to prolong his arrest for another two months.
His wife claims Berg has been “cast to the wolves” by Norwegian officials who allegedly recruited him as a courier, only “to refuse to acknowledge any connection to him or help his family when things went wrong.”
According to Aftenposten newspaper, Berg was moved to a better cell two weeks ago,and has had telephone contact with his family.
Frode Berg’s Russian lawyer,Ilja Novikov, does not think Berg will be imprisoned in this case, nor will he be pardoned.
His assessment is that FSB, the Russian security police, will escort Berg out of Russia, and deliver him on the border. “But it will not happen without a deal” Novikov told Aftenposten. (Norway Today)
UPDATE V (December 26 2018) — On December 11 2018, the Moscow City Court has sentenced ex-police officer Alexey Zhitnyuk to 13 years in prison for transferring classified information to Frode Berg.
Alexey Zhitnyuk gave secret documents containing information regarding the Russian navy to Frode Berg in December 2017.
Berg was immediately arrested upon receiving the documents and charged with espionage. In November 2018, the Moscow City Court extended his detention until February 5 2019. ( RAPSI )
UPDATE VI (January 30 2019) — On January 1 2019, I posted a calendar of some of the events Intel Today will be following during the next twelve months. (Intel Today — Knowns & Unknowns of the 2019 Intelligence Calendar)
The first entry on the list reads:
“February 5 2019 — On December 11 2018, the Moscow City Court has sentenced ex-police officer Alexey Zhitnyuk to 13 years in prison for transferring classified information to Frode Berg, an alleged Norwegian spy.
Zhitnyuk gave secret documents containing information on Russian navy to Frode Berg in December 2017.
Berg was arrested upon receiving the documents and charged with espionage. In November 2018, the Moscow City Court extended his detention until February 5 2019.”
Today (January 30 2019), the Moscow City Court has extended Berg’s detention until April 5 2019.
Berg’s Russian lawyer, Ilia Novikov, believes that the trial will begin in mid-March of this year. Novikov stated that Berg (aged 63) is rather calm and in good health.
The Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI) has not yet posted an official statement regarding the case. (12:00 UTC). I will keep you update. Stay tuned.
UPDATE VII (March 22 2019) — The Moscow City Court will consider a criminal case against Frode Berg, a citizen of Norway charged with espionage related to Russian navy, the court’s press service has told RAPSI. The hearing date has not been scheduled yet.
UPDATE VIII (April 5 2019) — The trial has finally begun on Tuesday in the Moscow city court building.
“Berg was enlisted by the Norwegian intelligence service and agreed to work with them in return for financial reward,” Russia’s RIA news agency cited state prosecutor Milana Digaeva as saying.
The trial began with the court examining case documents and will continue with the cross-examination of witnesses, Berg’s Russian lawyer Ilya Novikov told Reuters.
Ilja Novikov told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Berg’s trial was “in practice over,” after just a day and half in court this week.
Closing arguments are scheduled for one additional day next week and Novikov expects a verdict from the Moscow city court on or around April 16.
Norway’s military and foreign intelligence agency — which is believed to have recruited Berg — has come under intense criticism over its involvement in the case.
Berg insists he was merely duped into being a courier for Norway’s military intelligence and had no knowledge of what documents he was carrying or who was supposed to receive the cash.
UPDATE IX (April 9 2019) — Today, prosecutors asked the Moscow City Court to find Norwegian citizen Frode Berg guilty of spying against Russia and sentence him to 14 years in jail.
The sentence will be announced at 9.30 a.m. Moscow Time on April 16.
At the hearing, lawyer Ilya Novikov told TASS that she had no illusions regarding the verdict. There is indeed little doubt that the court will find Berg guilty.
“During his speech, Frode Berg impressed the court and spoke with great dignity about what he had previously done.
In particular, he strengthened friendly ties between Russia and Norway.
He regrets about the damage that could affect cooperation between the two countries.”
As Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Russian president Vladimir Putin attended the Arctic forum in St. Petersburg today, a NRK journalist asked President Putin a very direct question:
“Can you pardon him?”
(NRK is the Norwegian government-owned radio and television public broadcasting company, and the largest media organisation in Norway.)
Interestingly, President Putin did not rule out a pardon.
“We have to wait for the decision of the court, as in all other countries.
The court decides whether one is guilty or not, and if guilty on the punishment.
I can pardon a person who is convicted, but he is not yet convicted.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg would not comment on the case, arguing that it was best in the interest of Frode Berg.
UPDATE X (April 16 2019) — This morning, Frode Berg has been sentenced to 14 years, as requested by the prosecutor. This was to be expected as Berg pleaded not guilty.
Many hope that the judgment will lead to the Norwegian and Russian authorities to quickly find a political solution.
There is a possibility that the 63-year-old could be pardoned by the president. This option is only possible if Berg does not appeal the verdict.
According to the Moscow Times, Berg will not appeal the verdict and plans to request a presidential pardon from Vladimir Putin that would see him freed.
UPDATE XI (October 18 2019) — There are rumours that Russia and Lithuania have agreed to a spies swap. Russia and Norway may have reached an agreement on a similar deal.
First thing first, this is only Gossip Intelligence [GOSINT] at this stage but this “information” is very plausible.
For sure, yesterday, Maria Zakharova — spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs — told journalists in Moscow that she had no specific information regarding these stories.
According to the BNS [Estonia-based news agency ] sources, Lithuania would transfer Nikolai Filipchenko — a Russian Federal Security Service agent convicted two years ago — in exchange for Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis, two Lithuanian citizens convicted in Russia in 2016.
The swap deal would also cover a Norwegian citizen sentenced in Russia and another Russian citizen. If true, the Norwegian citizen is almost certainly Frode Berg.
The rumour regarding Frode Berg is certainly plausible. Berg’s conviction was not appealed and we have learned that he has recently applied for a pardon. Since his sentence is final, a pardon by President Putin is legally possible.
The agenda of geopolitics is also on Berg’s side. Next week, on Friday October 25 2019, ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of the former Soviet Union’s liberation of the Baltic countries from Nazi German occupation in October 1944 will be held in Kirkenes, Northern Norway.
Kirkenes was the first Norwegian town to be freed of Nazi occupation, six month before World War II finally ended in April 1945. Kirkenes is of course Frode Berg’s hometown…
The ceremonies will be attended by Norway’s King Harald V, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
On this day next week, Frode Berg could be a free man.
UPDATE XII (October 24 2019) — Interfax news agency jus announced (12.30 Moscow Time — GMT+3) that the official commission which deals with prisoner pardons in Moscow has recommended that Russian President Vladimir Putin pardon Frode Berg.
The documents have already be sent to the Presidential Administration.
END of UPDATE
Border Inspector Frode Berg
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)
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)
Norway & Russia– Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE II]
Norway & Russia– Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE III]
Norway & Russia– Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE IV]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE V]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE VI]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE VII]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE VIII]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE IX]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE X : Frode Berg Sentenced to 14 Years]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE XI : Rumours of spies swap]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE XII : Official Commission Recommends Pardon]
Norway & Russia — Former Border Inspector Behind Bars in Moscow on Charges of Espionage [UPDATE XIII : President of Lithuania signs Law to Allow for Possible Spy Swap]