Treholt, Norwegian Cold War spy who served Soviet Union and Iraq, dies at 80

By Terje Solsvik

OSLO (Reuters) – Arne Treholt, a Norwegian diplomat who sold Western secrets to the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was still warning compatriots not to anger Russia in 2020, has died in Moscow at the age of 80, the Norwegian government said on monday with

Treholt, a journalist, politician and diplomat who was once listed as Secretary of State, was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The court ruled that his espionage had caused “irreparable damage” to Norway.

The son of a former cabinet minister, Treholt, was arrested at Oslo airport as he was about to fly to Vienna with a briefcase full of confidential documents for a meeting with Russian KGB spy service officials, prosecutors said.

He was found guilty in 1985 of turning over information to the KGB about Norwegian military defense plans, including how and where the member of the NATO military alliance planned to receive reinforcements during a possible conflict.

He argued that what he shared did not harm Norway’s interests.

As Norway’s deputy minister for the rights of the sea in the late 1970s, Treholt was deeply involved in talks with the then Soviet Union over how the two neighbors should share sovereignty over a vast swath of Arctic waters.

At stake were fishing rights and future oil and gas exploration. Treholt was found guilty of leaking information during the talks.


He also sold intelligence to Iraq, including NATO assessments of the then-running Iran-Iraq war, the court found.

His then-wife said he left her in the dark as he made his way to the KGB in Vienna, telling her he was on his way to Paris.

The court dismissed his claim that he had operated a private return channel to smooth east-west links, adding that money appeared to be the dominant motive.

Blackmail may have been a factor, as the KGB had pictures of Treholt participating in an orgy in Moscow in 1975, prosecutors said. Treholt denied in court that the photos played a role.

In 1992, a year after the end of the Cold War, Treholt was pardoned for health reasons.

The then Labor government’s decision to release him after eight and a half years in prison was criticized by the opposition, who claimed he was given preferential treatment compared to other prisoners.

After his release, Treholt made several unsuccessful attempts to have his espionage conviction overturned.

In recent years he has lived mainly in Moscow and Cyprus.

In 2020 he wrote a joint opinion article in the Norwegian daily Aftenposten with a Russian academic warning to Norway not to disregard Russia’s legitimate interests.

“Any wobble in the balance between good ally and good neighbor,” they wrote, “can easily have unpredictable consequences.”

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Andrew Cawthorne)


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