Germany raised concerns with Austria about spy links to Russia
Germany feared Russian intelligence services were getting help from Austrian spies in a sign of heightened alert about meddling by the Kremlin in Europe’s affairs.
Germany’s federal police, or BKA, approached Austria in 2019 over allegations that two of the country’s agents had passed on sensitive information to Moscow, according to a document seen by Bloomberg News.
In a letter dated 9 October 2019, which hasn’t previously been reported, the BKA asked whether Austria’s anti-corruption bureau found evidence against the individuals, who are no longer active, and requested information on the status of the investigations.
In a response a few weeks later, Austrian officials said they had no indication that intelligence was leaked to foreign services, people familiar with the matter said. The anti-corruption unit referred German authorities to local Vienna prosecutors for further information.
The Austrian authority said the same to Bloomberg when contacted for comment. Germany’s BKA declined to comment.
The exchange highlights Germany’s concerns about malign Russian activity and its worries that Austria could be a weak link in the European Union.
In August 2019, a few weeks before the letter, a Georgian of Chechen descent was gunned down in broad daylight in a Berlin city park, allegedly at the behest of the Kremlin. The tensions have continued, with Berlin accusing Russia of seeking to interfere in last month’s election. Moscow has denied any role in the incidents.
Meanwhile, investigations in Vienna over potential espionage connections between the Kremlin and parts of the Austrian state have continued.
Egisto Ott, one of the former spies named in the letter, last month publicly rejected allegations that he passed on national security information to Russia or that he abused his office. The investigation is ongoing.
“I thought something in my past had caught up with me,” Ott said about a recent police raid at his apartment in Austria.
He was also questioned in connection with separate probes around Wirecard and likewise dismissed allegations that he played any role in the scandal surrounding the defunct German payment processor.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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