Trial begins for Iranian-born Swedish brothers charged with spying for Russia

Peyman and Payam Kia allegedly worked together to pass information to Russian military intelligence for over a decade, with Peyman working for secret Swedish spy agency at the time

A police tape cordons an area outside a house where Swedish Security Service allegedly arrested two people on suspicions of espionage in a predawn operation in Stockholm, November 22 2022. (Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency via AP)
A police tape cordons an area outside a house where Swedish Security Service allegedly arrested two people on suspicions of espionage in a predawn operation in Stockholm, November 22 2022. (Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency via AP)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Two Iranian-born Swedish brothers were on trial in Sweden Friday, charged with spying for Russia and its military intelligence service GRU for a decade.

Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35, appeared before the Stockholm District Court to face charges of having worked jointly to pass information to Russia between September 28, 2011, and September 20, 2021.

Between 2014 and 2015, Peyman Kia worked for Sweden’s domestic intelligence agency but also for the country’s armed forces. Swedish prosecutors allege that the data they gave the Russians originated from several authorities within the Swedish security and intelligence service, known by its acronym SAPO.

Swedish media reported that Peyman Kia worked for the armed forces’ foreign defense intelligence agency, known in Sweden by its acronym MUST, and worked with a top-secret unit within the agency that dealt with Swedish spies abroad.

Intelligence expert Joakim von Braun told Swedish broadcaster SVT that even though many details remain unknown, it appeared to be one of most damaging cases of espionage in Sweden’s history because the men compiled a list of all the employees within SAPO.

“That alone is a big problem because Russian intelligence focuses on human sources,” von Braun said.

Audience members queue for the trial of the two brothers who are suspected of having spied on Sweden for the Russian intelligence service, in the district court in Stockholm, Sweden, November 25, 2022. (Jessica Gow/TT News Agency via AP)

“The material is the absolute most secret material available,” prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist told the court. “It is an unusual trial in that a similar case has not appeared in Sweden in over 20 years.”

One of Sweden’s largest spy scandals took place during the Cold War when Stig Bergling, a Swedish security officer who worked for both SAPO and the armed forces, sold secrets to the Soviet Union. He was sentenced in 1979 to life imprisonment on similar charges and later escaped while serving his time, returning voluntarily to Sweden in 1994. He died in his native country in January 2015.

Peyman Kia was arrested in September 2021 and his brother in November 2021. Both denied any wrongdoing, their defense lawyers told the court.

Payam Kia, 35, helped his brother and “dismantled and broke a hard drive which was later found in a trash can” when his brother was arrested, according to the charge sheet obtained by The Associated Press.

The naturalized Swedish citizens face sentences up to life imprisonment if convicted.

In a separate, unrelated case, Swedish authorities on Thursday released one of two people arrested this week on suspicion of spying against Sweden and another, unnamed foreign power.

The released individual remains a suspect and authorities didn’t explain why the other person was kept in custody.

The two were arrested Tuesday in a predawn operation in the Stockholm area. Authorities have given few details about the case, but Swedish media cited witnesses who described elite police rappelling from two Black Hawk helicopters to arrest them.

According to Swedish reports, the two are a couple and are both Russians who arrived in Sweden in the late 1990s. The AP could not independently confirm these reports.

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