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British embassy guard faces jail for spying for Moscow

A former security guard at the UK’s Berlin embassy, who pleaded guilty to spying for Moscow, faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced on Friday. David Ballantyne Smith, 58, admitted to passing sensitive material to the Russian embassy in Germany and was then caught in a sting operation.

Judge Mark Wall said Thursday that he would sentence Smith on the basis that he had an “ongoing relationship” with Moscow and was “paid for his treachery”.

The sentencing hearing starts at 1000 GMT at the Old Bailey Court in central London. The judge rejected Smith’s claims that he had passed information to Moscow only twice in order to cause “embarrassment” to the UK.

Smith “was motivated by his antipathy towards this country and intended to damage this country’s interests by acting as he did,” the judge added.

The military veteran, originally from Paisley in western Scotland, had worked at the Berlin embassy for five years. Prosecutors said Smith first wrote to the Russian embassy in 2020, revealing details of British embassy staff and suggesting further contact. After the UK and German authorities found out about this, they formed a plot to try to catch Smith in the act.

– Fake spies –
Smith was told that a Russian citizen called Dmitry — in reality a UK agent — wanted to visit the British embassy to pass on sensitive information. Smith then filmed CCTV footage of “Dmitry” inside the embassy and took packaging from a phone SIM card given to him. Another UK agent later approached Smith pretending to be “Irina”, an operative in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.

In covert video, Smith told her: “I don’t trust the bastards I work for” and “I don’t want to be in Germany. I’m stuck in the land of Nazi bastards”.

He was arrested at his flat soon afterwards in August 2021 and later extradited to the UK. Smith told the court this week he felt “ashamed” when he saw the British embassy staff he had betrayed. He claimed he had only wanted to cause “inconvenience and embarrassment”.

But the court heard Smith later made several videos of sensitive areas inside the embassy building. Prosecutor Alison Morgan said Smith filmed offices in detail, showing their precise locations. She asked him “who was directing those videos?” and Smith said: “No one at all”, claiming he was drunk at the time.

He denied being paid, but appeared to have extra money from 2020 and around 800 euros (around $857) in cash was found at his home that could not be accounted for, the court heard. Smith is married to a Ukrainian woman who moved back to her home country in 2018.

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