Austrian army office accused of spying for Russian appears before the court

Mar. 2 – A retired army colonel has been accused of spying for Russia for decades and his trial has been opened – behind closed doors – on past Monday.

As soon as the defendant entered the court, the judge ordered that, due to national security reasons, the trial be held behind closed doors.

The 71-year-old Austrian military – which has not been named – is accused of having provided information – above all on weapons systems and assignment rules – to Moscow. According to his lawyer, Michael Hofer, he never betrayed “any military or state secrets” and said that his client describes himself as “a patriot”.

Salzburg, Salzburg State Court as seen from Kajetanerplatz (Image by Andreas Praefcke / CC-BY 3.0)

Conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz positioned Austria as one of Russia’s closest allies in the European Union which is deeply embarrassed by this case.

The military on trial – through his lawyer’s words – explained his relationship with the Russian military official that was supposed to be his GRU handler as “an acquaintance, a friendship, a collegiality”. Furthermore, Hofer added that his client just helped the Russian man to gather information because of his linguistic limitations with German.

According to a court statement, the retired army colonel faces up to ten years in prison. The trial should last five days and it is not clear when the verdict will be reached.

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