FRANKFURT, Germany (AFP) — A German-Afghan translator for the German army goes on trial Monday along with his wife on charges of treason for allegedly spying for Iran.
Abdul S., 51, stands accused of “a particularly serious case of treason” and of “violating state secrets” in 18 instances, according to the higher regional court of Koblenz in western Germany.
The suspect was arrested in January 2019, reportedly after a tip-off from abroad and an ensuing set-up to catch him in the act.
His 40-year-old wife Asiea S. will be in the dock with him, after prosecutors in December charged her with aiding and abetting treason.
Asiea S. is accused of “helping her husband from the very beginning” with his espionage activities for Iranian intelligence services, the Koblenz court said.
Abdul S. worked for several years as a civilian translator and cultural adviser to the German Bundeswehr at the Heinrich-Hertz barracks in the town of Daun, near Koblenz.
Officials have been tight-lipped about the case, revealing no details about the information that was allegedly leaked.
Abdul S. himself “has yet to comment on the accusations against him,” the court said in a statement, adding that much of the legal proceedings will take place behind closed doors.
Abdul S. risks a life sentence if found guilty, which in Germany usually means at least 15 years.
His wife faces a maximum of 11 years in prison.
Taking the bait
According to Der Spiegel weekly, the hunt for the spy started in 2017 after Germany’s military counterintelligence service (MAD) received a warning from “a friendly secret service” that Iran had an informant in the Bundeswehr.
MAD spycatchers quickly focused their attention on Abdul S. after noticing that his trips to certain EU cities overlapped with those of a senior officer in Iran’s secret service, Spiegel wrote in an in-depth article last year.
To confirm their suspicions, the MAD started to dripfeed Abdul S. fake documents that appeared to contain sensitive or classified information, and then watched as he reached out to his Iranian contact to set up meetings.
The MAD shared its findings with federal prosecutors, tasked with handling cases of national security, in the spring of 2018.
Spiegel said Abdul S.’s work for the German military included eavesdropping on phone calls or intercepted radio messages from the Taliban.
But it “is doubtful” that Abdul S. had access to classified information about the actions and deployments of German troops in Afghanistan, the weekly added.
Nevertheless, the case is embarrassing for the Bundeswehr since Abdul S. would have had to pass stringent background checks before being hired.
Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency has identified Iran has one of the countries most active in spying on Germany, along with China and Russia.
Iranian spy services “are regularly looking for appropriate sources to cover the information needs of the regime,” the BfV said in a report.
In 2018, Germany arrested a Vienna-based Iranian diplomat suspected of being a spy, with prosecutors alleging he was plotting with a Belgium-based couple to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris.
In another high-profile case, former German intelligence agent Markus Reichel was convicted in 2016 for spying for both the CIA and the Russian secret service.
In 2011, Germany jailed a married couple for spying for the Russian secret services for more than 20 years.