Russian held in Norway for spying blames ‘misunderstanding’

Police officers guard the court entrance in Oslo. (AP pic)

OSLO: A Russian citizen arrested in Norway on suspicion of spying during a seminar in parliament rejects the claim and says it is a “misunderstanding”, his lawyer told AFP on Monday.

Norway’s intelligence service PST said Sunday it had arrested a 51-year-old Russian suspected of “illegal intelligence activity”.

The man, who has not been named, was on Saturday ordered held in custody for two weeks, the day after his arrest at Oslo airport.

“He says he doesn’t understand why he’s being accused of this and believes it is a misunderstanding,” his lawyer Hege Aakre said.

The man is suspected of spying during an inter-parliamentary seminar which gathered representatives from 34 countries to discuss digitalisation at the Storting, the Norwegian parliament.

The investigation is in “a preliminary phase”, with suspicions for the time being based on “observations and his behaviour,” PST spokesman Martin Bernsen told AFP.

On Sunday, the Russian ambassador in Norway Teimuraz Ramishvili criticised the detention on the embassy’s Facebook page, saying it was based on a “ridiculous pretext”.

In April, a Norwegian was arrested in Russia suspected of espionage.

Held in custody pending trial, Frode Berg has admitted helping the Norwegian intelligence service by acting as a courier on several occasions, but says he didn’t know what he was delivering.

If the investigation in Norway confirms the espionage allegations against the Russian citizen, Norwegian authorities could try to negotiate an exchange to obtain Berg’s return, local media have speculated.

PST refused to comment on those reports.

Norwegian intelligence officials regularly accuse Russia of cyber attacks and espionage, but arrests are extremely rare.