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Marsalek's helpers in Berlin?


An Austrian ex-secret service agent is said to have sold information to Russia. The fugitive Wirecard manager Marsalek apparently orchestrated the betrayal. Now there are indications of helpers in Germany.

Florian Flade, WDR

The case looks like the material of a spy thriller: Egisto O., once an employee of the Austrian Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Combating Terrorism (BVT), is said to have obtained and sold information for Russia. His former superior, department head Martin W, is said to have incited him to betray him. He, in turn, is said to have acted on behalf of the fugitive Wirecard manager Jan Marsalek.

The German authorities are now also interested in the suspected espionage case. According to research by WDR, “Süddeutscher Zeitung” and the Austrian news magazine “Profil” there are indications that Marsalek also had helpers in Germany when obtaining information about the ex-secret service agent Egisto O. Marsalek is said to have sent couriers with cash from Berlin to Vienna to pick up a laptop with explosive contents and transport it to Russia.

The Austrian judiciary has been investigating Egisto O. for several years. Among other things, he is said to have obtained information about numerous people from politics, business and the security authorities from official databases. Apparently also about those in whom Moscow is particularly interested, such as Bellingcat researcher Christo Grozev, who became known for several revelations about Russian secret services.

Egisto O. was arrested last week and is now in custody. New allegations have become known against the ex-secret service agent: According to the public prosecutor's office, O. is also said to have passed on three mobile phones belonging to high-ranking officials in the Austrian Interior Ministry to the Russian secret service – in June 2022, when O. had long been the focus of the judiciary.

The cell phones fell into a river during a canoe trip in the summer of 2017 and are said to have been stored at the then Austrian domestic intelligence service BVT for data backup. O. apparently had access to the devices at the time; they were said to have been temporarily stored in the apartment of his former son-in-law in Vienna, who was also briefly arrested last week. His lawyers told Austrian media that he knew nothing about the devices being passed on to the Russian secret service.

Spy ring in Britain

The prosecutor's new findings are based largely on Telegram chat messages that British authorities transmitted to Austria. They come from a case against a group of Bulgarians who are said to have spied for the Russian secret service on behalf of Marsalek. The chat messages suggest how the transport of the company cell phones from the Austrian Interior Ministry to Russia was organized and that the handover may have taken place in the apartment of O's former son-in-law in Vienna.

Not only the cell phones are said to have been handed over to couriers: in November 2022, after paying 20,000 euros, a so-called SINA laptop was also said to have been handed over. This is a laptop that is equipped with a special encryption program. In Germany, it is even approved by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) for the storage and transmission of data with the highest classification level of “Top Secret”.

Chat messages between Marsalek and Orlin Roussev, one of the Bulgarians now accused in Great Britain, show that the money was probably obtained in Berlin through dubious sources, which is said to have ultimately been paid for the specially protected laptop in Vienna. Marsalek is said to have written that the “laundry boys” would pick up the 20,000 euros and make them available in Berlin.

Brought laptop to Moscow

Several couriers, who were apparently traveling with fake passports, are said to have traveled with the money from Berlin to Vienna on Marsalek's behalf. They apparently took the crypto laptop with them and are said to have brought it to Moscow via Istanbul.

Marsalek is said to have later written in chats that the device was brought to “Lubyanka” – a name for the headquarters of the Russian domestic secret service FSB in the center of Moscow – without any problems.

The Austrian investigators noted after research by WDR, “Süddeutscher Zeitung” and “Profil” that it must be assumed that secret data in which the Russian Federation had an interest was stored on the SINA laptop. Elsewhere it is said that there is a suspicion that the laptop contained secret official data from an EU state that was of interest to the Russian intelligence service.

Used in more than 30 countries

It is still unclear where the encrypted laptop, which is said to have been handed over to Marsalek's middlemen in Vienna in November 2022, came from. According to the manufacturer, SINA systems are used in more than 30 countries worldwide. In Germany, among others, the Bundeswehr and security authorities such as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) have such laptops.

In the past, Egisto O. had always denied betraying official secrets or even selling them to the Russian secret service. He claimed to be the victim of an intrigue within the Austrian security authorities.

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