Suspected Italian spy gave Russia highly confidential documents: source
ROME (Reuters) – Italian police have found a stash of classified and highly classified military documents that they believe an Italian naval captain handed over to a Russian official in exchange for money, a forensic source said on Friday.
Walter Biot, 54, was arrested Tuesday in a parking lot in Rome. A police source said he was seen handing over information to a Russian military attachÃ© in exchange for 5,000 euros ($ 5,900).
The forensic source with access to the files said police recovered a memory card containing 181 photos classified as confidential, nine classified as highly confidential and 47 classified as NATO secret documents.
Biot’s lawyer Roberto De Vita told an Italian newspaper his client told him he handed over information to Russia for money, but denied leaking classified documents.
Biot first appeared in court on Thursday, but declined to speak. “He asked for time to collect his thoughts,” De Vita told reporters.
Interviewed later by the Corriere della Sera newspaper, De Vita said Biot told him he was not ideologically motivated and never handed over “documents that could put Italy or others endangered countries â.
Italy, which traditionally enjoys better relations with Moscow than many other Western states, has expelled two Russian diplomats in retaliation and denounced the suspected espionage as an “act of hostility.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly said on Wednesday that it regretted the expulsions, but that they did not threaten bilateral relations.
Biot’s lawyer said his client had four children, one of whom was seriously ill and in need of special care.
âI made a mistake, but I did it for my family. I had a moment of great weakness and fragility. I was involved in a mechanism that was bigger than me. I had a debt that I couldn’t repay, âsaid De Vita.
De Vita did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from Reuters.
Biot is being held in a prison in Rome and has been refused house arrest. He faces a minimum of 15 years in prison if convicted of military espionage.
Biot’s wife Claudia Carbonara told Corriere della Sera that the family was struggling to cope with her salary of 3,000 euros per month, with expenses including 1,200 euros per month on their mortgage.
âHe is neither stupid nor irresponsible. He was just desperate, âshe said. Contacted by Reuters, Carbonara declined to comment.
Biot holds the rank of Commander and had held a clerical position since 2010. He was currently working in the Department of the Ministry of Defense responsible for developing national security policy.
The Russian official seized on Tuesday left Rome on Thursday with a colleague from the embassy, ââa diplomatic source said. The two men worked in the office of the military attachÃ© at the embassy in Rome.
The Italian media named them Dmitry Ostroukhov and Alexei Nemudrov. Russian authorities have not released their names.
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Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Frances Kerry