Latvia probing NATO-scandal spy's Russian handlers

23rd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Latvian intelligence said Wednesday it was probing purported Russian agents involved in a NATO spy scandal which led to the jailing of a top official in neighbouring Estonia.

The Constitutional Protection Bureau, or SAB, said in its annual report that it was trying to untangle a web of connections between Estonian defence ministry official Herman Simm and his Russian handlers, who visited Latvia between 2000 and 2008.

"Even though Simm was tried for treason already in 2009, the counterintelligence unit continued the investigation in 2010 to check facts connected to Latvia which have been revealed in the case," the SAB said.

Simm was convicted on treason charges in February 2009 after pleading guilty to spying for his country's Soviet-era master Moscow from 1995 to 2008. He is currently serving a prison sentence of 12 years and six months.

The small Baltic republics of Estonia and Latvia were ruled by Moscow from World War II until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

They joined the European Union and NATO in 2004. Estonia's embarrassment over the Simm case was compounded by the fact that he sold its new allies' secrets to Russia.

Simm's handlers were identified in Estonia's probe as Valery Zemtsov and Sergei Yakovlev.

The latter was found to have used the fake Portuguese identity Antonio Graf, who visited Latvia posing sometimes as an investor and other times as an investigative journalist, the SAB report underlined.

Yakovlev collected economic information about the Latvian and regional economy, including energy projects, Latvian security officials said.

"Assuming a possibility that all the spying activities of those individuals have not been exhausted, the SAB is asking those Latvian residents who have been in contact with them to come forward," the agency said in a statement.

© 2011 AFP

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