COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Two Iranian-born brothers were charged in Sweden with aggravated espionage for allegedly spying for Russia and its military intelligence service GRU for around a decade, prosecutors said Friday. One of the men worked for Sweden’s domestic intelligence agency.
Authorities identified them as Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35. One of the brothers was also indicted for the alleged gross unauthorized handling of secret information. It wasn’t immediately clear which of them it was.
“It has been a complex investigation concerning a crime that is very difficult to investigate and the suspicion concerns very serious criminality directed against Sweden’s intelligence and security system,” National Security Unit chief prosecutor Per Lindqvist said.
“The information that has been obtained, transmitted and divulged could, by the fact that if it comes into the hands of a foreign power, result in detriment to Sweden’s security,” Lindqvist said in a statement.
He later told The Associated Press that the case involved “extremely sensitive topics,” but declined to elaborate.
According to the charge sheet obtained by the AP , the men have “jointly” passed information to the Russian military intelligence service GRU during the period September 28, 2011-September 20, 2021.
It added that the data were acquired through one of the men’s work within Sweden’s domestic intelligence agency and the country’s armed forces. The data originates from several authorities within the Swedish security and the intelligence service.
His brother helped with the contacts with “Russia and the GRU including matters of surrender of information and receipt of compensation.” According to the charges, Payam Kia “dismantled and broke a hard drive which was later found in a trash can” when his brother was arrested.
The case has been investigated by Sweden’ domestic security service, SAPO. Sweden’s prosecution authority said much of the information in the preliminary investigation is secret and could not offer details.
SAPO said it became suspicious of the former employee and a preliminary investigation was launched in 2017. Lindqvist said the inquiry was started “because there was a suspicion that there was a mole, an insider” within Sweden’s intelligence community.
The domestic spy agency confirmed that Peyman Kia had worked there between 2014 and 2015, and that before that had worked in the Swedish armed forces. “It is during these employments that the suspected acquisition must have taken place.”
Swedish media said that he worked for the armed forces’ foreign defense intelligence agency MUST and reportedly worked with a top secret unit under MUST which was dealing with Swedish spies abroad. He later worked for Swedish Customs.
“The suspected crime is a risk that every security service is well aware of, although we do everything to counter it,” said Anders Kassman at SAPO.
Peder Ohlsson, head of the armed forces’ press department, called the crimes “very serious.”
Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said he had been informed of the case, but declined to comment.
The brothers became Swedish citizens in 1994, and the Expressen daily quoted one of the men as saying that he speaks Persian fluently. The younger brother, reportedly has worked for SAPO, Swedish media reported.
They were arrested in September and November 2021. Both have denied any wrongdoing, Swedish media reported. The brothers face up to life imprisonment if convicted. A life sentence in Sweden generally means a minimum of 20-25 years in prison.