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.


Two French confirmed dead in Beirut blast, France steps up probe

Updated 35 sec ago

Two French confirmed dead in Beirut blast, France steps up probe

PARIS: France has stepped up its probe into the massive Beirut port blast last week by handing it to investigating magistrates, prosecution sources said Friday, as it was confirmed two French citizens were among the 171 people killed.
The investigation has now been entrusted to two magistrates who can ultimately decide whether to press charges over the August 4 blast, a source in the office of the Paris prosecutor told AFP.
Another source, who asked not to be named, said two French citizens were now confirmed to have been killed in the explosion.
The death of one French victim — prominent Lebanon-based architect Jean-Marc Bonfils — had already been confirmed but the second victim has yet to be publicly identified.
French prosecutors on August 5 opened a probe into “involuntary injury” using their jurisdiction to investigate acts committed abroad when French people are among the victims.
Investigators and police from France have already been at the scene in Beirut for several days to reconstruct the chain of events that led to the explosion.
The FBI will also join Lebanese investigators at the invitation of the Lebanese government, the US State Department said Thursday.
The explosion has been blamed on a vast stock of ammonium nitrate left for years in a warehouse at the port despite repeated warnings.
Lebanon’s government under Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned this week following days of demonstrations demanding accountability over the disaster.
Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation and judicial officials said Wednesday the prosecution would question ministers and former ministers.
President Michel Aoun has rejected calls from world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, and many Lebanese for an independent international investigation as a “waste of time.”