In the worst and biggest espionage case the Scandinavian nation has seen in 50 years, two Iranian-born Swedish brothers were sentenced to significant prison terms on Thursday for spying for Russia and its military intelligence service GRU for a decade.
Peyman Kia, the older of the two naturalized Swedes, received a life sentence, while Payam Kia received a nine years and ten month sentence, reports AP. They were charged with egregious espionage for allegedly working together to transfer information to Russia between September 28, 2011, and September 20, 2021 when they appeared before the Stockholm District Court.
In Sweden, a life sentence often entails 20 to 25 years behind bars. Peyman Kia’s lawyer, Anton Strand, said that his client would challenge the verdict, but the younger brother’s lawyer, Björn Sandin, claimed that it had not yet been decided whether to appeal or not.
“It is placed beyond reasonable doubt that the brothers, together and in consultation, without authorization and for the benefit of Russia and the GRU, acquired, forwarded and disclosed information” to a foreign power with the purpose of damaging Sweden’s security, the court said in its verdict.
Peyman Kia “was the driving force in their joint crime,” according to the Stockholm District Court, but Payam Kia’s participation “was of lesser relative importance.”
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The older brother had a “full understanding of the damaging effects — he has acquired, forwarded and disclosed the information to Russia, which constitutes the main threat to Sweden’s security,” according to the court’s explanation for the life sentence.
“After the district court’s evaluation of the evidence, it is clear that certain pieces of the puzzle are missing and that it has therefore not been possible to reach full certainty as to what happened,” Chief Judge Måns Wigén said. But “the picture of what happened is sufficiently clear for the defendants to be held responsible,” Wigén said. The motive was money.
According to Wigén, Peyman Kia obtained roughly 90 documents, while Payam Kia obtained approximately 65 documents.
“A disclosure of these documents could particularly damage Sweden’s security,” he told a news conference.
They “have been convicted of very serious crimes against Sweden’s intelligence and security system,” said Per Lindqvist, chief public prosecutor at the National Security Unit.
Both men disputed any misconduct during the trial, which was conducted behind closed doors. Much of the evidence provided and early inquiry material is classified.
Peyman Kia, 42, worked for Sweden’s domestic intelligence agency as well as the country’s armed forces between 2014 and 2015. Swedish prosecutors claim that the information they provided to the Russians came from multiple authorities inside Sweden’s security and intelligence service, known as SAPO.
According to Swedish media, Peyman Kia apparently worked for the military’s foreign defense intelligence agency, also known as MUST, and with a top-secret division of the organization that dealt with Swedish spies abroad.
In November 2021, his brother Peyman Kia was taken into custody. Both, according to their defense attorneys, denied any culpability.
According to the charging sheet acquired by The Associated Press, Payam Kia, 35, assisted his brother and “dismantled and broke a hard drive which was later found in a trash can” when his brother was detained.
After SAPO grew suspicious of the former employee and believed there might be a mole in Sweden’s intelligence community, a preliminary investigation was started in 2017.
“It is something that must not happen, but which we as a security service know can happen,” SAPO head Charlotte von Essen said. “Russia is one of the countries that pose the greatest security threat to Sweden. Every day there are attacks and activities to steal information in order to strengthen the interests of the state itself.”
Since the guys had prepared a list of every SAPO employee, the case is regarded as one of the most damaging cases of espionage in Sweden’s history.
Stig Bergling, a Swedish security official who served in both the military forces and SAPO, was implicated in one of Sweden’s worst spy scandals during the Cold War for selling information to the Soviet Union. He was given a life term in prison in 1979 for the same offenses, managed to escape while serving his sentence, and then made a voluntary return to Sweden in 1994. He passed away in his home nation in January 2015.