German prosecutors pressed formal charges against a local couple accused of running a Russian spy network for more than 20 years, media reported on Friday.
The case is another consequence of the defection scandal in which the FBI smashed a spy ring of 10 Russian agents in 2010 including redhead Anna Chapman, reports said, though a Russian intelligence analyst called the connection far-fetched.
Andreas Anschlag, 46, a mechanical engineer, and his spouse Heidrun, 52, a housewife, were arrested in a coordinated police raid back in October.
The pair had sold off their belongings and were apparently preparing to flee, German media said at the time. Heidrun Anschlag was reportedly communicating with her superiors in Moscow via a shortwave radio receiver at the very moment police raided her house, prompting her to fall out of her chair.
The couple arrived in Germany between 1988 and 1990, both sporting Eastern European accents and claiming to having been born in South America and grown up in Austria.
But in reality, they worked for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, police said, Der Spiegel weekly reported.
The duo was recruiting, schooling and managing other agents who worked in Germany and neighboring countries, Die Welt newspaper said.
They were also passing sensitive information to Moscow on EU and NATO plans collected by agents, Die Welt said.
Their most high-profile recruit to be publicly identified was Dutch diplomat Raymond Poeteray, who was detained in April. Poeteray, who denied the accusations, allegedly received 90,000 euro ($115,000) for passing confidential information to Russia.
The Anschlags’ cover was blown by Alexander Poteyev, a Russian intelligence officer who was recruited by the CIA in the 1990s and fled to the United States in 2010, media said.
Poteyev, who was convicted in absentia of high treason in Russia last year, is also alleged to have betrayed a stateside spy ring whose 10 members were swapped for four Russian espionage convicts in 2010. The list of U.S.-based spies included Chapman, 30, who went on to make a career as a media personality and minor TV celebrity in Russia.
The Anschlags received at least 100,000 euro ($130,000) a year for their efforts, a prosecutor claimed in court, German television N-TV reported.
No date has been set for the trial of the duo, who claim they are not guilty.
The Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman refused to comment on the matter on Friday, citing agency policy. No other Russian governmental officials have spoken on the case.
Several security services experts contacted by RIA Novosti said it was too early to comment on the case, which may be either a political move aimed at influencing Russian-German relations or a regular counterintelligence operation.
But one of them, Nikolai Dolgopolov of Rossiiskaya Gazeta, questioned the link to the Chapman case, which concerned the Foreign Intelligence Service’s operations in the United States, not the European Union.
“Where’s one [region] and where’s the other. What’s the connection?” Dolgopolov said.
This is not the first case of alleged Russian spies in Germany. In August, a NATO civilian worker at the Ramstein Air Force Base was detained and accused of planning to pass over classified information to Russia for $10 million.
In 2008 and 2011, respectively, a civil engineer and an Austrian officer both of whom worked at helicopter maker Eurocopter were convicted of handing over technical documentation to the Foreign Intelligence Service.