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Russia confirms arrest of space official for spying in Austria

RIA Novosti

14/06/2007 16:08

MOSCOW, June 14 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian national detained by Austrian police on allegations of spying is a 51-year-old employee of the Russian Space Agency, an agency spokesman said Thursday.

"We confirm that a [Russian] citizen arrested in Vienna is an employee of the Russian Federal Space Agency," Igor Panarin said.

A popular Austrian daily, the Kurier, said Wednesday that police in the town of Gmunden in northern Austria had arrested a Russian citizen suspected of involvement in military espionage.

The paper also said an Austrian Air Force officer who allegedly passed on classified information to the Russian spy had been detained following a lengthy surveillance operation conducted by Austrian military counterintelligence.

Panarin said the space agency was surprised by the incident and would closely follow developments in the case. He also said the suspect was an excellent employee and always performed his duties well.

An official spokesman for the Austrian Prosecutor General's office said Thursday the Russian suspect could face deportation to Germany because he could have been running intelligence operations there as well.

"He [the Russian citizen] is currently being held at a detention center in Salzburg [about 190 miles from Vienna] and Austrian authorities are considering his deportation to Germany because he is also suspected of spying on the territory of that country," the official said.

According to the Kurier, the Austrian suspect, who served as a technician in the Austrian Air Force and had many contacts with civilian firms in Germany, could have supplied the Russian spy with electronics components data.

The spokesman said the Austrian officer had been transferred to a detention facility in Vienna and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Austrian authorities have not yet revealed the identities of the alleged spies, in the interests of the investigation, and the Austrian Foreign Ministry denied rumors it had been involved in the spy probe.

The Russian Embassy in Vienna did not comment on the article in the Austrian newspaper, but a senior embassy official told RIA Novosti Wednesday that "Russia has sent a protest note to the Austrian Foreign Ministry in connection with the arrest of a member of an official Russian delegation participating in a meeting of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space."

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