Austria fears 'Russian infiltration' as ex-intelligence official arrested

AFP - [email protected]
Austria fears 'Russian infiltration' as ex-intelligence official arrested
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer addresses a press conference after the Migration Summit in Vienna on July 7, 2023. (Photo by Alex HALADA / AFP)

Austria's Chancellor said there was a need for heightened security in the Alpine country, after a former Austrian intelligence officer was arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia.


Chancellor Karl Nehammer called a National Security Council meeting for April 9th to "assess and clarify the security situation" following these "serious accusations".

"We must prevent Russian spy networks from threatening our country by infiltrating or exploiting political parties or networks," Nehammer said in a statement, referring to the far-right movement "FPO", which has past links to Moscow.

The country of nine million has traditionally seen itself as a bridge between the East and West but has been rocked by several cases centred on suspected spying for Moscow in recent years.

Egisto Ott -- a former employee of the now defunct Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT) -- was arrested Friday and accused of "systematically" providing information to the Russian secret services, according to information from the public prosecutor's office quoted by the APA press agency.

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On Monday, the Vienna Regional Court ordered that he be remanded in custody due to "risks of collusion and the commission of a crime", the court's spokeswoman Christina Salzborn told AFP.


She declined to give details of the charges against Ott. His lawyer could not be immediately contacted.

Contacted by AFP in mid-March, Ott denied any accusation of spying for Russia.

Ott -- who was suspended from his post in 2017 and briefly arrested in 2021 -- was arrested Friday after British authorities seized written messages exchanged between Jan Marsalek and a suspected spy arrested in the United Kingdom.

Marsalek is the Austrian former chief operating officer of payments firm Wirecard, who became a wanted man in Germany over fraud allegations.

READ ALSO: Is Austria’s capital Vienna really a ‘city of spies’?

Based on these exchanges, Ott was accused of passing the smartphone data of three senior officials to Russia in return for payment.

The phones fell into the water when a canoe capsized during a trip on the Danube, a source close to the case told AFP.

They were then repaired by a BVT technician before being handed over to Moscow, along with a laptop containing confidential documents.

Ott fled Germany in June 2020 and his whereabouts are unknown.


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