The trial of two Swedes accused of spying for Russia has begun

STOCKHOLM (AP) – The trial of two Iranian-Swedish brothers accused of spying for Russia and its GRU military intelligence service for a decade began in Sweden on Friday.

Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35, appeared in Stockholm District Court on charges of conspiring to pass information to Russia between September 28, 2011 and September 20, 2021.

Between 2014 and 2015, Peyman Kia worked for Sweden’s domestic intelligence agency as well as for the country’s armed forces. Swedish prosecutors claim that the information they gave to the Russians was obtained from several authorities of the Swedish security and intelligence service, known by its acronym SAPO.

Swedish media reported that Peyman Kia worked for the armed forces’ foreign defense intelligence agency, known in Sweden as MUST, with the agency’s top-secret unit dealing with Swedish spies abroad.

Intelligence expert Joakim von Braun told Swedish TV station SVT that while many details remain unknown, it appears to be one of the most damaging espionage cases in Swedish history, as the men compiled a list of all employees within SAPO.

“That alone is a big problem because Russian intelligence is focused on human sources,” von Braun said.

“The material is absolutely the most classified material available,” prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist told the court. “It is an unusual trial in Sweden that has not had a similar case for more than 20 years.”

One of Sweden’s biggest spy scandals occurred during the Cold War when Stig Bergling, a Swedish security officer who worked for both SAPO and the armed forces, sold secrets to the Soviet Union. He was sentenced to life in prison on similar charges in 1979 and later escaped while serving his sentence, voluntarily returning to Sweden in 1994. He died in his homeland in January 2015.

Peyman Kia was arrested in September 2021, and his brother in November 2021. Both have denied any wrongdoing, their lawyers told the court.

According to an indictment obtained by The Associated Press, Payam Kia, 35, helped her brother during his arrest and “dismantled and smashed a hard drive that was later found in a trash can.”

Swedish citizens face life in prison if convicted.

In a separate, unrelated case, Swedish authorities on Thursday released one of two men arrested this week on suspicion of spying against Sweden and another unnamed foreign power.

The man who was released remains a suspect, and authorities have not said why the other man is being held.

Both men were arrested during an operation in the early hours of Tuesday in the Stockholm region. Authorities have released few details about the case, but Swedish media cited witnesses who described elite police raiding two Black Hawk helicopters to arrest them.

According to Swedish data, the two are a couple and both are Russians who came to Sweden in the late 1990s. AP could not independently confirm these reports.