Italy expelled two Russian diplomats on Wednesday after police said they had caught an Italian navy captain passing secret documents to a Russian military official in return for money.
The Italian captain and the Russian embassy staff member were arrested in a car park in Rome and accused of “serious crimes tied to spying and state security” after their meeting on Tuesday night, Italian Carabinieri police (national gendarmerie) said.
A police source said the captain was called Walter Biot and had accepted 5,000 euros ($5,900) in return for the information.
Biot, 54, had the rank of a frigate captain but was working at the defence ministry department tasked with developing national security policy and managing part of the relations with Italy’s allies, according to Reuters.
NATO documents were among the files the navy captain passed to the Russian official, Ansa news agency said, raising potential security worries for other members of the Western military alliance.
Italy expelled two Russian diplomats
Italy immediately summoned the Russian ambassador Sergey Razov and expelled two Russian officials believed to be involved in what Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio called an “extremely grave matter”.
The Italian foreign ministry said it had summoned Russian ambassador Sergey Razov following the arrests. Russia's RIA news agency quoted the Russian embassy as saying it hoped the incident would not affect bilateral relations.
“The accusation of espionage against Italian and Russian officers shows that we must continue to work closely with Europe and our allies to constantly improve our means of protecting the safety and well-being of our citizens,” the Italian Foreign Minister said.
Russian news agencies, citing the Russian embassy in Italy, said the pair who were expelled worked in the military attaché’s office. Officials did not say whether the Russian army official who had met the captain was one of those ordered to leave.
The arrests were ordered by Rome prosecutors following a long investigation carried out by the Italian intelligence with the support of the military, the Carabinieri police force said.
The incident was the latest in a series of spying accusations in recent months against Russians in European countries.