News in English

2019.11.20 12:00

Norwegian freed in Lithuanian-Russian spy swap: ‘I was asked to do a favour’

LRT.lt2019.11.20 12:00

A Norwegian citizen Frode Berg freed in the prisoner exchange with Russia gave a press conference on Tuesday where he said he never worked for his country's secret services and called it an “intelligence scandal”.

"If this is not an agreed game between Norway and Russia, then it is a [huge] intelligence scandal," Norwegian public broadcaster, NRK, quoteed Berg as saying in the press conference.

“I'm convicted of espionage, but I'm not a spy [...] I am not an agent,” said Berg, adding later that his predicament is an example of the Norwegian intelligence service being “dumbed down”.

He has previously admitted that he worked as a courier for Norwegian intelligence, however, he claimed he didn’t know his activities had anything to do with espionage.

“I was asked to do a favour, and without thinking much about it, I said yes,” said Berg in the press conference. “I undertook five deliveries” of cash that were said to be “financial assistance” to somebody, according to Berg.

However, he soon started to suspect “about what this [really] was,” and attempted to break ties with the Norwegian intelligence in 2016,

Read more: Lithuania’s silence on spy swap may hide state failures

Yet, he was coerced back into working for the Norwegians – “They kept saying ‘Frode, you who are a good Norwegian, you who know Russia, it's incredibly important what you do for us,’” claimed Berg.

The former border guard was arrested in December 2017 in Moscow and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in high security Lefortovo Prison for allegedly collecting classified information on the Russian navy.

In the press conference, Berg said the time spent at the Russian prison “was difficult,” where he counted 711 days behind bars.

“You are alone [...] you feel lost,” he said. Yet, although he denied having been physically or mentally tortured, he said it was difficult to be with another person in a cramped cell.

The release came suddenly, according to Berg. His lawyer announced that the swap will take place. “About three o'clock on Friday night, I was awakened and was given 30 minutes to get into a waiting car,” said Berg. “So I got dressed and drove with the FSB to the airport, where we took scheduled flights to Kaliningrad.”

He was then driven to the border with Lithuania. Now, Berg confirmed, he is in the process of writing a book.

Read more: Lithuania and Russia conduct unprecedented spy swap

Lithuania and Russia conducted a spy exchange on November 15, when two Lithuanians and a Norwegian citizen convicted of spying in Russia were exchanged for two Russian intelligence workers sentenced in Lithuania.