Swedish-Iranian brothers charged with spying for Russia go on trial

Pair are accused of working with Russia's military intelligence service GRU for about a decade

Audience members queue for the trial of the two brothers who are suspected of having spied on Sweden for the Russian intelligence service, in the district court in Stockholm. AP
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A trial opened in Sweden on Friday in the case of two Iranian-born Swedish brothers who are charged with spying for Russia and its military intelligence service GRU for a decade.

Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35, appeared before the Stockholm District Court to face accusations of having worked jointly to pass information to Russia between September 28, 2011, and September 20, 2021.

They risk life sentences if found guilty. Most of the trial will be held behind closed doors.

Between 2014 and 2015, Peyman Kia worked for Sweden’s domestic intelligence agency but also for Sweden’s armed forces. Sweden's prosecutors allege that the data they gave to the Russians originated from several authorities within the Swedish security and intelligence service, known by its acronym Sapo.

Swedish media said that Peyman Kia worked for the armed forces’ foreign defence intelligence agency, whose Swedish acronym is Must, and reportedly worked with a top secret unit under Must that dealt with Swedish spies abroad.

“This case is unique in many ways … We haven't had a trial like this in more than 20 years”, prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist told the court in his opening statement.

He said the information obtained, transmitted and divulged was “extremely sensitive material”. “The court will have insight into material that very few in this country have seen or have access to,” he said.

His co-prosecutor Per Lindqvist said it could be “detrimental to Sweden's national security”.

Intelligence expert Joakim von Braun told Swedish broadcaster SVT as the trial opened that even though many details are unknown, it appeared to be one of most damaging cases of espionage in Sweden's history because the men compiled a list of all the employees within Sapo.

“That alone is a big problem because Russian intelligence focuses on human sources,” Mr von Braun said.

Peyman Kia was arrested in September 2021 and his brother in November 2021. Both denied any wrongdoing, their defence lawyers told the court.

Payam Kia, 35, helped his brother and “dismantled and broke a hard drive which was later found in a trash can” when his brother was arrested, according to a charge sheet obtained by AP.

The naturalised Swedish citizens face sentences up to life imprisonment if convicted.

In another case, Swedish authorities on Thursday released one of two people arrested this week on suspicion of spying against Sweden and another foreign power, although the freed person is still a suspect.

The two were arrested on Tuesday in a predawn operation in the Stockholm area. Authorities have given few details about the case, but Swedish media quoted witnesses who described elite police rappelling from two Black Hawk helicopters to arrest them.

According to the Swedish reports, the two are a Russian couple who arrived in Sweden in the late 1990s.

The Swedish Prosecution Authority said late on Thursday that one of the two had been released but was still a suspect. It did not explain the reasoning for releasing one but keeping the other in detention.

The investigation had been under way for some time, Sapo said. The agency said that one of those arrested was suspected of aggravated espionage against Sweden and against “a foreign power”. Authorities did not identify the other country allegedly spied on.

Authorities in Sweden said that this case is not related to other cases of espionage.

Updated: November 25, 2022, 12:21 PM
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