Senior French military officer suspected of spying for Russia

File photo of Defence Minister Florence Parly with troops in Mali. - Copyright Thomas Paudeleux/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press

The French government is investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”, the defence minister said on Sunday.

According to French media reports, the top officer is suspected of spying for Russia.

“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told French media, giving no further details.

Florence Parly gave no further details but sources told French media the officer was stationed with Nato and based in Italy.

The lieutenant-colonel was suspected of passing sensitive information to Russian intelligence, Europe 1 reports.

Europe 1 radio reported that a French lieutenant colonel based in Italy and stationed with NATO is suspected of having transmitted sensitive documents to the Russian secret services.

Parly said her ministry had informed prosecutors about the case. She did not elaborate on what the officer was suspected of having done.

“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper.

“We have implemented all the necessary safeguards,” Parly said.

A judicial source later confirmed that a senior officer had been indicted on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.

He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power” as well as “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.

The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France and is being held at a prison in Paris, according to Europe 1.

The official speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, Europe 1 reported.

The latest arrest comes at a time of tension among Nato partners, stemming mainly from questions about the continued commitment to the alliance of the US under President Donald Trump.

Last November, French President Emmanuel Macron described Nato as “brain dead” because of the waning US commitment.

The latest tensions have arisen over gas and oil in the eastern Mediterranean. Nato members Greece and Turkey are at loggerheads, with France appearing to side with the Greeks.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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