Russian detained in Oslo for alleged spying sees ‘misunderstanding’: lawyer

OSLO (Reuters) – A Russian citizen detained in Oslo on suspicion of illegal intelligence activities is a Russian state employee but has denied wrongdoing, seeing the matter as a “misunderstanding”, his Norwegian lawyer said on Monday.

A printer is marked with handwritten sign reading “DO NOT USE!!” in the parliament in Oslo, Norway September 24 2018, following the arrest of a Russian citizen suspected of espionage. REUTERS/Nerijus Adomaitis

The unidentified man was detained at Oslo airport before a flight out of the country on Friday, a day after attending a seminar on digitalization in Norway’s parliament.

Police told Reuters he would be held for an initial two weeks due to the risk of destruction of evidence.

“I cannot remember that we had a similar situation before, so it’s not normal,” said Martin Bernsen, spokesman for the Norwegian Police Security Service. Norway is a member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance and has a border with Russia.

The man’s lawyer, Hege Aakre, told Reuters that her client regarded the incident as “a misunderstanding” and was cooperating with investigators to provide an explanation.

She said the detention was based on an observation of “suspicious behavior”, declining to elaborate, and said her client was appealing against his detention.

The Russian Embassy in Oslo said in a Facebook post that the man’s detention was based on false claims made under an “absurd pretext”. It declined further comment.

FILE PHOTO: Norway’s parliament seen in Oslo, May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

The Russian consul visited the detained man and spoke with him, Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Monday, citing an Russian embassy official Olga Kiryak. “We are permanently in touch with his lawyer and following developments,” she said.

The seminar was organized by the European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation (ECPRD) and attended by 79 people from 34 countries, parliament said.

Parliament’s chief administrator, Marianne Andreassen, told Reuters that several printers in the building had been withdrawn from use for inspection in connection with the Russian’s arrest.

“We take this incident very seriously and therefore we have implemented preventive security measures in cooperation with the relevant authorities including the National Security Agency,” she said.

Also, the foreign affairs and defense committee’s meeting room had been “compromised and cannot be used” until further notice, Conservative parliamentarian Michael Tetzchner said, without elaborating.

Last December, retired Norwegian border guard Frode Berg was arrested in Moscow on suspicion of espionage and is awaiting trial. Berg admitted being a courier for Norway’s military intelligence but had scant knowledge of the operation he took part in and denied wrongdoing, his lawyer said.

The lawyer, Brynjulf Risnes, said the detention of the Russian man in Oslo offered the hope of a prisoner swap. “It sparks a hope for Berg and his family,” he told Reuters.

Berg faces up to 20 years of imprisonment if found guilty.

Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Mark Heinrich

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