The Norwegian government has agreed to pay what convicted spy Frode Berg calls “generous” compensation, for the “ordeal” he was subjected to “during two years in a Russian prison.” Berg, who was arrested in Moscow in December 2017 and charged with espionage, says he now feels like the state is taking responsibility for a bungled intelligence operation.
“I’m extremely satisfied,” Berg told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday, just after he signed the compensation agreement in the offices of the government’s attorneys (Regjerings-advokaten). “This is a generous offer of compensation they have presented. I feel like I can put an end to this now.”
He’ll receive NOK 4.3 million (USD 483,000) in cash compensation. The state has also paid for his legal counsel and consular support since he was arrested and imprisoned in Moscow, after being caught carrying a large amount of cash and documents. Berg was convicted of espionage last spring and sentenced to 14 years in prison, but was released late last autumn as part of a complicated spy swap invoving Russia, Lithuania and Norway.
Berg, a retired Norwegian border inspector, has claimed he was “duped” into being a courier for Norwegian intelligence agents in his home town of Kirkenes in Northern Norway. He made several trips in and out of Russia on behalf of Norwegian employees of Norway’s military intelligence agency Etterretningstjeneste, also known as E-tjenesten.
No admission of guilt by the state
State attorney Fredrik Sejersted stressed that the compensation does not mean that Norwegian authorities have admitted any guilt in the matter. “It’s written in the agreement that no positions have been taken on either side,” Sejersted told NRK. “This is done on terms that are neither confirmed nor denied.”
Sejersted said he could confirm, however, “that we have entered into an agreement with Frode Berg and his attorney today on what, seen from our side, is compensation. The thought behind it is compensation for the ordeal Frode Berg has been subjected to during two years in a Russian prison on charges while on assignment for Norwegian authorities.”
Berg had sought compensation based on “lots of extra costs” and “the ordeal for my family and me, of course,” he told NRK in November. “A few things have changed in our private lives also, perhaps it will be a different life from here on, so a form of compensation, yes, a bill will come.”
Claims some have been ‘disciplined’
He stressed on Thursday that he hadn’t actually demanded compensation, but was offered it. “I have never used the world ‘demand,’ but I have received compensation for what I’ve been through.” He earlier has called the entire case a “scandal of huge proportions.”
Berg, who met with the chief of E-tjenesten right after his release, has also been through what he called a “voluntary debriefing.” He later told TV2 that four employees of E-tjenesten had been disciplined after the botched operation in Russia that reportedly aimed to get information about Russia’s Arctic fleet and naval operations for Norway and presumably its NATO allies.
One of the four reportedly is a man in his 50s who was based in E-tjenesten‘s office in Finnmark and also an active local politician for the Labour Party. E-tjenesten later told NRK, however, that there had not been any “disciplinary reaction” tied to the case.
Home for the holidays
Berg was home in time for the holidays but also faced critics on his arrival back in the Norwegian border town of Kirkenes. He’d been active in promoting good cross-border relations with Kirkenes’ Russian neighbours for years, and many of his friends and associates were disappointed to learn that he’d been working against Russia at the same time.
Berg opted to face up to his critics at once, heading out to meet those upset that he risked damaging the civil cooperation with Russians that he also had promoted. “You generally don’t have a good reputation locally if you’re cooperating with the intelligence agencies,” Luba Kuzovnikova, artistic leader for a border group, told news bureau NTB in December. “I can understand that given his own military background, he felt it was his duty to cooperate with E-tjenesten, and he knew the man who recruited him. But can you be so naive? He worked with the Russians for years, he knows ‘you don’t mess with the Russians.'”
Newspaper Aftenposten has reported that E-tjenesten itself was duped into thinking it had cultivated a spy within Russia and who would pass documents on to Berg in return for cash. Instead the Russian proved to be a double agent.
Others in Berg’s hometown, including the mayor of Sør-Varanger where Kirkenes is located, have welcomed him back. “It’s natural there are divided opinions,” Mayor Rune Rafaelsen told NTB, “but we are all glad Frode came home.”