Swedish intel agent gets life for spying for Russia

A judge on Thursday handed a life sentence to a former Swedish intelligence official convicted of spying for Russia for a decade and jailed his brother for 10 years.

A Stockholm court found 42-year-old Peyman Kia, who served in Sweden's intelligence service Sapo and military intelligence units, and his brother Payam, 35, guilty of "aggravated espionage".

It is considered one of Sweden's most serious espionage affairs in history given Peyman Kia's access to highly classified information, which he is convicted of gathering for Russian military intelligence from 2011 to 2021.

The brothers, Swedish citizens of Iranian origin, "illegally and for the benefit of Russia and the GRU, acquired, transmitted and disclosed information whose disclosure to a foreign power could harm Sweden's security", the court ruled.

It found Peyman Kia guilty of gathering some 90 classified documents, some of which he did not have security clearance to access.

His brother was found guilty of planning the crime and managing contacts with the GRU, passing on about 45 of the classified documents.

They were arrested in 2021, several years after Sapo first suspected a mole and counterintelligence began investigating Peyman Kia.

The pair have been held in custody since their arrest. Both denied the charges and few details about the secrets they exposed have come to light due to their sensitive nature.

- Possible money motive -

Peyman Kia was handed a life sentence for espionage "of the most serious category", Judge Mans Wigen said.

The defendant abused the trust placed in him as an intelligence official in order to aid Russia, which poses "the biggest threat to Sweden," the judge added.

Peyman Kia's lawyer Anton Strand told Swedish media his client would appeal the verdict, while the younger brother's lawyer, Bjorn Sandin, said he would recommend his client do the same.

Despite a trove of evidence, including USB sticks, laptops, hard discs and mobile phones, the court acknowledged that there was much it had been unable to ascertain.

"It is clear that some pieces of the puzzle are missing and it has therefore not been possible to establish with certainty what has happened", the court wrote, speculating that the brothers may have been motivated by money.

The court found that Peyman Kia handled cash worth around 550,000 kronor (around $50,000) in 2016-2017, most of it in US dollars, which it said was likely payment from Russia for the classified documents.

The court said Kia's various explanations for the cash and the classified documents found on his computer were "not credible".

Much of the investigation and trial, and Thursday's court ruling, were classified and therefore barred to the public.

- 'Grossly abused trust' -

The head of Sweden's armed forces, Supreme Commander Micael Byden, hailed the court ruling as "important".

"These were extremely serious charges. It's important that (prosecutors) were able to prove what really happened", he told Swedish media from Brussels.

The case has led to changes in military routines in order to improve security, an armed forces spokeswoman told news agency TT.

Sapo chief Charlotte von Essen said her organisation had taken "measures to cope with the harm done" by "an employee who grossly abused the trust placed in him".

The trial coincides with another spectacular spying case involving a couple of Russian origin arrested last year at their home in a Stockholm suburb in an airborne police raid at dawn.

Moscow allegedly installed the couple, named by the Bellingcat investigative website as Sergei Skvortsov and Elena Koulkova, as sleeper agents in the late 1990s.

According to Swedish media, the pair managed specialist import-export companies dealing in electronic components and industrial technology.

Skvortsov was placed in temporary custody in November for "illegal intelligence activities". His companion was detained on suspicion of complicity before being released, although she remains a person of interest in the investigation.

Swedish authorities say the case is not linked to that of the Kia brothers.