Lithuania, Norway swap spies with Russia at border

Norwegian national Frode Berg was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison for espionage. (AP Photo)
Updated 15 November 2019

Lithuania, Norway swap spies with Russia at border

  • Lithuanian citizens Yevgeny Mataitis and Arstidas Tamosaitis and Norwegian citizen Frode Berg returned to Lithuania
  • Lithuania handed over the two pardoned Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko in the exchange at a Lithuanian border crossing

VILNIUS: Russia on Friday returned two Lithuanians and a Norwegian convicted of espionage to Vilnius in a espionage swap that also saw NATO and EU member Lithuania free two Russians jailed for spying in an exchange reminiscent of the Cold War.
Tensions between Lithuania and Soviet-era master Russia grew after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, triggering a string of espionage allegations on both sides.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda first pardoned the two Russians jailed by Vilnius for spying, prompting Moscow to announce it would respond in kind.
“Today, at midday, the exchange operation was completed successfully,” Lithuanian intelligence chief Darius Jauniskis told reporters in Vilnius on Friday.
“Lithuanian citizens Yevgeny Mataitis and Arstidas Tamosaitis and Norwegian citizen Frode Berg successfully returned to Lithuania,” he said, adding that Berg was then transferred to the Norwegian embassy in the Lithuanian capital.
Jauniskis said Lithuania handed over the two pardoned Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko in the exchange at a Lithuanian border crossing with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency director Sergei Naryshkin had told news agencies that Moscow would take “reciprocal measures” following Lithuania’s pardon.
Both Russians were sentenced by Lithuanian courts in 2017.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg hailed Berg’s release and thanked Lithuania for its “cooperation and efforts” in securing his freedom.
Ilya Novikov, Berg’s lawyer in Russia, tweeted on Friday that he was “on his way home, it’s over” but it remained unclear when he would return to Norway.
Nauseda’s decree said the Russians were pardoned in line with a new law on spy swaps.
Lithuanian officials said Filipchenko worked for the FSB Russian federal security service and was trying to recruit senior officials in the Baltic state.
He was sentenced to 10 years behind bars and did not appeal.
Moisejenko was jailed for 10 years and six months after a court ruled he recruited a Lithuanian army captain who served at the country’s Siauliai military air base. He had pleaded innocent.
The two Lithuanians were sentenced in Russia for allegedly sharing Russian military intelligence with Lithuania.
Moscow occupied and annexed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during World War II.
The trio only broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.
Tension including allegations of espionage between the Baltic states and Russia have simmered since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014.
Estonia and Russia swapped convicted spies last year, while in 2015, Russia freed Estonian officer Eston Kohver in a Cold War-style bridge handover.


Special court sets date for Musharraf treason verdict

Updated 06 December 2019

Special court sets date for Musharraf treason verdict

  • Ailing former army chief asks court to record his statement in Dubai

ISLAMABAD: The special court in Islamabad hearing the high treason case against Pakistan’s former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, said on Thursday that it would announce its verdict on Dec. 17.

The case has been in court for the past seven years, as Musharraf’s ill health has meant multiple adjournments.

The Islamabad High Court stopped the special court from pronouncing its verdict on Nov. 27. Musharraf plans to submit an application to the three judges of the special court requesting the bench to form a commission that can record his statement in a bid to stop the court from announcing its verdict, his lawyer Salman Safdar said on Thursday.

“President Musharraf has instructed me to file an application in the court for a commission on the next hearing of the case,” Safdar told Arab News.

The government’s prosecution team asked the court for time to prepare and present its argument at the next hearing.

Musharraf seized power in October 1999 by toppling the civilian government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup. He remained in power until 2008.

When Sharif returned to power in 2013, he instituted a high treason case against Musharraf for subverting the constitution and imposing a state of emergency in November 2007. The case has been pending since December 2013. High treason is punishable by death or life imprisonment under Pakistani law.

Prosecutor Ali Zia Bajwa informed the court that he had received a 3,000-page record and it would take him time to go through all the documents before presenting his arguments.

“I want to go through the whole record before pleading the case,” Bajwa said, seeking “reasonable time” from the court to prepare. Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, head of the three-member bench, directed the prosecution team to give their final arguments on December 17.

Musharraf’s lawyer said it would be “unfair” if the court announced its verdict “without allowing me time to plead the case to prove my client’s innocence.”

“We hope the court will hear us in the next proceeding and constitute a commission to record General Musharraf’s statement,” he said.

The 76-year-old former military dictator is living in self-imposed exile in Dubai, where he was rushed to hospital on Monday.

He is Pakistan’s first army chief to be charged with treason. He has pleaded not guilty and dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

“I have fought wars for Pakistan and served my country for 10 years,” Musharraf said on Tuesday in a video message from his hospital bed, claiming that the case against him is “baseless” and that he is being victimized.

“Even my lawyer Salman Safdar is not being heard by the court,” he said. “As for me, a commission can come here, I can give them a statement.”

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