November 7, 2019 / 1:02 PM / 13 days ago

Lithuanian parliament amends laws to allow for possible spy swap

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania’s parliament passed legislation on Thursday that could pave the way for a possible three-way spy exchange between Russia, Norway and Lithuania.

Lithuanian news agency BNS last month reported, citing anonymous sources, that Moscow, Oslo and Vilnius were discussing exchanging two Russians jailed in Lithuania, two Lithuanians sentenced for spying in Russia, as well as a Norwegian, Frode Berg, convicted of spying and jailed in Russia.

Berg, a retired guard on the Norwegian-Russian border, has been at the center of a local campaign to free him. In his hometown of Kirkenes in the Arctic, a banner hangs in the center of the town that says “Help Frode home!”

Authorities in the three countries have either declined to comment on, or denied, the BNS report.

But Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said the amendment was necessary in order for him to pardon a person convicted of a crime in Lithuania in exchange for a Lithuanian citizen prosecuted abroad who “acted in the interests of Lithuania”.

He will sign the amendment on Nov. 11, his office told Reuters on Thursday, ahead of a meeting on Nov. 13 by the Lithuanian Pardon Committee to review applications for pardons.

A well-placed source told Reuters the pardon applications for two Russian citizens who could be part of the possible spy swap were expected to be debated at Wednesday’s meeting of the pardon commission.

Meanwhile in Russia, the Kremlin said on Wednesday Berg, in jail since his arrest in December 2017, had formally asked for a pardon, two weeks after a Russian state commission recommended him for a pardon.

On Oct. 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin would decide “soon” on whether to pardon Berg.

One of the two Russian nationals involved in a swap could include Nikolai Filipchenko, convicted in Lithuania in 2015 on charges of attempting to recruit high-level politicians and officials, the BNS report said.

Two Lithuanian citizens convicted of spying in Russia in 2016, Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis, could be part of a swap, BNS said.

Editing by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Editing by Alison Williams

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