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Retired Austrian colonel not testifying on espionage case against Russian national

Investigation is ingoing

VIENNA, July 26. /TASS/. The retired Austrian colonel, who is accused of working for Russian intelligence services, is not testifying over the case of a Russian national who was put on the wanted list on the suspicion of spying against Austria, a spokesman for Salzburg police investigating the retired colonel’s case told TASS on Friday.

"The 70-year-old retired colonel is under arrest at a prison in Salzburg and keeps silent about further investigation results, but for his first evidence," the spokesman reported.

Austria’s Interior Ministry said on Thursday it had put Russian national Igor Zaitsev, 65, on the international wanted list on the suspicion of spying for Russia’s General Staff Main Directorate, formerly known as the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU. The arrest warrant was issued by the Salzburg prosecutor’s office, which suspects Zaitsev of recruiting the retired Austrian colonel who was arrested in 2018 and charged with leaking secret information to Russia. Austrian police claim that the Russian national is a GRU officer, who was allegedly coordinating the activities of the retired Austrian army officer to spy against Austria since 1987.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the two men used radio and satellite communications devices as well as state-of-the-art spy gadgets. The two have been traced thanks to an investigation of a foreign intelligence service.

The Austrian government announced on November 9, 2018 that they had launched an investigation into a 70-year-old retired colonel, suspected of working for Russian intelligence since the 1990s and providing Moscow with information about Austria’s air force, artillery and the migration crisis. Following an interrogation, Salzburg’s prosecution office reported that the colonel was charged with committing a crime under two articles of the Austrian Criminal Code, namely intelligence work to the detriment of Austria, state secret disclosure and deliberate state secret disclosure. The investigation team inferred that all the crimes could have been committed between 1992 and 2018. The man is said to have been paid 300,000 euros for his services.

The colonel has been under arrest since November 30, 2018. If found guilty, he may face up to ten years behind bars. His lawyer says however that his client refuses to recognize himself as a spy claiming he has never disclosed any state secrets.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reacted back then saying he was unpleasantly surprised to see no request from Vienna for explanations over the affair. Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen suggested the situation should not be dramatized until the investigation was over. He stressed he was confident the incident would not tell adversely on the long-term bilateral cooperation.