Italy expelled two diplomats from Russia on Wednesday (31) after police arrested a sea captain in the European country for handing over secret documents to a Russian serviceman in exchange for money.
The two involved, whose identity has not been revealed, were arrested Tuesday evening (30) in a parking lot in Rome and charged with “serious crimes related to espionage and national security”.
The arrests were requested by prosecutors after a lengthy investigation by Italian intelligence services with military backing, police said. A witness said the captain’s name was Walter Biot and accepted 5,000 euros (R $ 33,000) in exchange for the information. The Reuters news agency was unable to contact Biot, who was in police custody, and the name of his lawyer was not disclosed.
Italian news agency Ansa said documents from the NATO (Western Military Alliance) were among the files handed over, raising security concerns for other members of the alliance.
Italy summoned the Russian ambassador to the country, Sergei Razov, and expelled two diplomats allegedly involved in what Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio called “an extremely serious matter”.
Biot, 54, is a frigate captain, but he worked in the Department of the Defense Ministry responsible for developing national security policy and managing part of relations with Italy’s allies, a person linked to the portfolio.
He had previously worked in the ministry’s external relations unit. His name and photo are on the contact list during Italy’s 2014 presidency of the European Union.
“The accusation of espionage against Italian and Russian officials shows that we must continue to work closely with Europe and our allies to constantly improve our means to protect the security and well-being of our citizens,” said said Di Maio.
Russian news agencies, citing the country’s embassy in Italy, said the two expelled diplomats worked in the military attaché’s office. Authorities did not say whether the army officer who met the Italian captain was among those who had to leave the country.
Russian news agency Interfax reported that a parliamentarian from the country said Moscow will reimburse deportations, which is normal in such cases. However, Russia appears keen to downplay the incident. The Foreign Ministry said it regretted the expulsions, but that they did not threaten bilateral relations, according to Interfax.
The Kremlin had previously said it had no information on the circumstances of the case, but hoped the two countries would maintain positive and constructive ties. The incident was the latest in a string of espionage accusations in recent months against Russians in European countries. Bulgaria expelled officials from Moscow this month, after the Netherlands did the same in December.