A security expert for the Russian Parliament (Duma) who was arrested on espionage charges in Oslo last month was a free man on Friday. Mikhail Botsjkarjov was released from custody and claimed he holds no grudge against Norwegian authorities.
Botsjkarjov was stopped at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen after he’d attended an EU-sponsored seminar held at the Norwegian Parliament. Officials at the Parliament had called police after observing what they considered suspicious behaviour, and he was arrested and held, suspected of having planted surveillance devices in the parliament’s building known as Stortinget.
The Oslo County Court initially went along with a request from Norway’s police intelligence service PST that Botsjkarjov be held while they continued their investigation. On Thursday, however, the court determined that evidence was insufficient to uphold the custody order and that Botsjkarjov should be released.
PST immediately appealed but withdrew the appeal on Friday. Botsjkarjov remains charged but he is now free to return to Russia after walking out of an Oslo jail early Friday afternoon. He told reporters that he hoped to return home as soon as possible, probably on Saturday.
The 51-year-old was then driven to the Russian Embassy in Oslo in a car that was waiting for him. His Norwegian defense attorney Hege Aakre said his release was “the only right thing to do,” and proof, in her opinion, that the charges against Botsjkarjov were groundless.
His release may be bad news, meanwhile, for a retired Norwegian border inspector, Frode Berg, who’s been held on spying charges in a Moscow jail since last December. Berg and his attorney had expressed hopes that Botsjkarjov’s arrest could eventually lead to a prisoner swap, but now that’s no longer an option.