LONDON (Reuters) – A security guard at the British embassy in Berlin collected highly sensitive information for more than three years, including “secret” government communications with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, prosecutors told a London court on Monday.
David Ballantyne Smith, 58, scanned copies of a letter from two cabinet ministers to Johnson and other documents relating to “sensitive trade matters”, prosecutor Alison Morgan told London’s Old Bailey.
Smith, who has pleaded guilty to eight charges, is alleged to have collected information from as early as March 2018 until his arrest in August 2021 – the day after meeting “Irina”, an MI5 officer posing as a member of Russia’s military intelligence service.
Morgan said a search of Smith’s home in Potsdam, Germany, after his arrest recovered a USB stick which contained several photos of embassy staff and diplomatic passports.
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Smith also filmed a number of sensitive documents he found in trays – including a November 2020 letter from then-Trade Minister Liz Truss and then-Business Minister Alok Sharma to Johnson, which was classified as “secret”, she said.
Morgan said Smith sent a letter containing “highly sensitive information about the British embassy and those who worked within it” to General Major Sergey Chukhrov, the Russian military attaché to Berlin, in November 2020.
The letter – which was written on British embassy-headed notepaper – provided the names, home addresses and phone numbers of embassy staff and enclosed documents authored by the British embassy’s lead officer dealing with Russia, Morgan said.
She added that the discovery of Smith’s letter to Chukhrov prompted a joint investigation between British and German authorities.
This first involved getting an MI5 officer to pose as “Dmitry”, a Russian national providing assistance to Britain.
Covertly recorded footage was played in court showing Smith filming CCTV footage of “Dmitry” from within the embassy’s security kiosk.
Smith was later approached by “Irina”, who told him that she needed assistance as someone had “passed information to the British and the information could be damaging to Russia”.
In hidden camera footage played to the court, “Irina” asks if Smith can help and he replies: “Well, like what?”
Smith pleaded guilty in November to eight offences under the Official Secrets Act, including one charge relating to passing information to Chukhrov.
He admitted seven other charges which relate to collecting information which might be useful to the Russian state.
Smith denies intending to cause prejudice to Britain, Morgan told the court, and says he pleaded guilty on the basis that he simply wanted to cause “inconvenience and embarrassment”. He also denies receiving any payment.
However, the prosecution argues that Smith – who told colleagues of his “strong anti-UK views”, as well as his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin – had a “clear intention to cause prejudice to the UK”.
Morgan said Smith expressed “anti-West and anti-NATO views” to colleagues and spoke of his support for Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
“He expressed views about the war in Ukraine that were opposed to the Ukrainian government and supportive of Russia,” she added.
Judge Mark Wall is expected to rule on Wednesday on the basis on which Smith will be sentenced, which is expected to take place on Friday.
(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Alison Williams)
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