Russian man charged with espionage goes on trial in Germany
BERLIN (AP) — A 30-year-old Russian man charged with espionage for allegedly passing information about European rockets to Russian intelligence went on trial Thursday in Germany.
The defendant, identified only as Ilnur N. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested in June. Before then, he worked as a research assistant for a science and technology professor at the University of Augsburg.
At the opening of the trial in Munich, the Russian man rejected the allegations against him.
“I am not an agent,” he told the higher regional court, according to German news agency dpa.
Prosecutors said Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service had contacted the man by November 2019 at the latest and he agreed to do work for the agency.
“The intelligence service was in particular interested in the various development stages of the European Ariane launcher and the accused’s materials research,” the federal prosecutor’s office said when the defendant was indicted in January.
The Russian met regularly with a Germany-based handler took place and passed on information about aerospace research products, particularly the various development stages of the Ariane space launcher, prosecutors said. He allegedly received a total of 2,500 euros ($2,839) in cash.
According to the indictment, the man handed over scientific articles to a Russian consulate employee in Munich on several occasions. Some of the articles were publicly accessible online and some the Russian man retrieved using his university access, dpa reported.
For some of the articles, he used a university access point to load the items onto data sticks. The meetings to hand over the sticks took place in various burger and steak restaurants in Augsburg, dpa reported.
The defendant did not deny that he passed on information to the consulate employee, but he said Thursday in court he didn’t know that the man was also a member of the Russian secret service.
He said he met him by chance during an trip with friends. After they met for a beer, the man from the consulate told him about an acquaintance who wanted to invest in aviation projects, the defendant said.
“I never thought about him being an employee of an agent organization,” he said. Dpa quoted him saying he could not imagine that Russian intelligence would be interested in information that already publicly available.
Last month, German media reported that consulate staff member allegedly was an agent for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency and had been declared persona non grata in Germany last summer and told to leave the country.
Germany has identified other suspected Russian spies within its territory in the last year.
Last February, a German man was charged with espionage for allegedly passing information on properties used by the German parliament to Russian military intelligence.
In August, Germany arrested a British citizen on suspicion of spying for Russia while working at Britain’s Embassy in Berlin.