British embassy guard who spied for Russia jailed for ‘treason’
LONDON (Reuters) – A former security guard at the British embassy in Berlin who leaked highly sensitive information to Russia and was paid for his “treason” was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison in a London court on Friday.
David Ballantyne Smith, 58, spent more than three years collecting confidential information, including a “secret” letter from ministers to then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other sensitive documents.
Judge Mark Wall said Smith was motivated by his anti-British and pro-Russian views.
“I’m sure you committed these crimes with intent to help Russia… Your motive for helping them was to harm British interests,” the judge said.
“You were paid by the Russians for your treason.”
At London’s Old Bailey, Wall sentenced Smith to 13 years and two months in prison.
Smith has pleaded guilty to eight counts under the Official Secrets Act involving conduct between 2020 and 2021. However, the judge said his “subversive activities” had begun two years earlier.
Nick Price, the prosecutor’s chief of crimes and counterterrorism, said Smith was motivated by “greed and hatred for our country.”
“That hatred was palpable and made him engage in behavior that can only be described as truly despicable,” he said outside of court.
Britain’s Security Secretary Tom Tugendhat called Smith a traitor.
“He betrayed us all and put our embassy and country at risk,” he said on Twitter. “I am grateful to MI5 and its great officers, the police and our German partners that he has been brought to justice and convicted.”
Prosecutor Alison Morgan said Monday Smith sent a letter containing “highly sensitive information” about the embassy and its staff to Major General Sergei Chukhrov, Russia’s military attaché in Berlin, in November 2020.
The letter, written on British Embassy headed notepaper, contained the names, home addresses and phone numbers of embassy staff and attached documents drafted by the British Embassy’s senior official for Russia, Morgan said.
The discovery of this letter sparked a joint investigation between British and German authorities, which Wall described as a “stab operation”.
First, this involved getting an MI5 officer to pose as “Dmitry”, a Russian citizen who supports Britain.
Smith was later approached by “Irina” who told him that she needed help as someone “had leaked information to the British and the information could harm Russia”.
In hidden camera footage played to the court, “Irina” asks if Smith can help and if he will see her again, and he replies, “I need to speak to someone, and then if that person can confirm something, I am.” it ready to meet again.”
Wall said Smith “might have just been referring to checking with someone at the Russian embassy to verify that it’s genuine,” and that this was evidence he had constant contact there.
Smith was arrested the day after meeting “Irina” in August 2021. A search of his home in Potsdam, Germany, found a USB stick containing several photos of embassy staff and diplomatic passports.
He also filmed a number of sensitive documents he found in files, including a November 2020 letter from then Trade Secretary Liz Truss and then Business Secretary Alok Sharma to Johnson, which was classified as “classified”.
Smith told the court he was ashamed of what he did, saying he filmed the documents after drinking “seven pints of beer” and that it “seemed like a good idea at the time” .
But the judge dismissed Smith’s evidence that he felt remorse, saying, “Your regret is no more than self-pity.”
(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Kylie MacLellan, Raissa Kasolowsky, Nick Macfie and Hugh Lawson)