UPDATED: Frode Berg, the retired border inspector from Northern Norway who’s being held on espionage charges in Moscow, had another day in court on Tuesday but will continue to be held in custody through the summer. The Norwegian government is now covering his attorneys’ fees, but his appeal to be released on bail was flatly denied.
“Because of his age (62) and his health, I asked the court to set Berg free on bail of EUR 100,000, but the court turned that down,” Berg’s Russian attorney Ilja Novikov told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said the bail amount had not been raised, but that it would be possible to collect it.
Berg has been held in full isolation since his arrest in Moscow in early December, when he was found carrying EUR 3,000 in cash and accused of receiving secret documents about Russia’s naval presence in the Arctic. Berg, who lives in Kirkenes in Northern Norway, claims he was only in Moscow for a weekend visit and had been asked by unidentified acquaintances in Norway to deliver the money to others in Russia.
Russian security police claim Berg was spying on behalf of Norwegian intelligence agencies. Berg denies that, too. His attorneys are hoping, in the event of a conviction, that Berg can be part of a prisoner exchange program, but that’s unlikely to be up for negotiation until after a Moscow court rules on his case later this year. The investigation into his alleged spying continues.
‘We miss him terribly’
His family back home in Kirkenes is also in despair. “It’s a great sorrow not have Forde home,” his wife Anita Berg told news service NTB last week. “We miss him terribly, both me, our daughter, grandchildren and the rest of the family. At least we now know that he’s not suffering physically, but he’s having a difficult time.”
She described the fear felt by the family when they suddenly lost contact with him on December 5 last year. “We knew something was wrong when we couldn’t reach him (on his mobile phone),” Anita Berg told NTB. His family reported him missing. “In the middle of the joy of learning he was alive, came the shock that he was in prison, suspected of spying,” she said, describing the entire situation as “unreal.”
She’s only been allowed one 10-minute phone conversation with him since he was arrested more than three months ago. Norwegian embassy personnel is allowed a visit once every 14 days, “and the embassy is quick to send us a report,” Anita Berg said. “We hope, of course, that they’re working hard to get Frode home, as quickly as possible.”
‘No comment’ from Norwegian authorities
That may be difficult, with Russian authorities appearing firm in their case against Berg. Norwegian authorities have mostly refused comment on the case, to a degree that’s sparked criticism from Berg’s lawyers. They’ve called for more openness about what’s being done to negotiate his release.
Government officials in Oslo refer all questions to the foreign ministry, which in turn claims it’s “a consular case” subject to confidentiality. Berg’s Norwegian attorney Brynjulf Risnes told NRK that the Norwegian government is paying Berg’s legal fees, however, because the Russian charges are against Norway for being behind the alleged spying.
Risnes said it “would have been very strange if Norway had not offered to cover his expenses,” since “it’s Norway that’s accused of espionage.” Neither the ministry nor county officials in Oslo, who can be responsible for paying legal costs for Norwegians abroad, would comment on or confirm the arrangement.