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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ericsson Trio Charged With Spying for Russia

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Three employees of wireless equipment maker LM Ericsson face espionage charges for allegedly passing secret information from the company to a Russian intelligence official, Swedish prosecutors said Thursday.

Afshin Bavand, 46, was charged with gross espionage and industrial espionage, while Mansour Rokkgireh, 44, and Alireza Rafiei Bejarkenari, 40, were charged with complicity in industrial espionage.

If convicted, Bavand could be sentenced to life in prison, while Rokkgireh and Bejarkenari could get four to five years, chief prosecutor Thomas Lindstrand said. All three are Swedish citizens.

The trial is scheduled to start May 14 and last for two weeks. A verdict is expected in June.

Bavand is accused of handing over secret company information to a Russian intelligence agent, while Rokkgireh and Bejarkenari are accused of helping him gather the information.

"If these ... secrets have been given away, it is my opinion that it may cause harm to the overall defense or to the security of the country," Lindstrand said.

But Ericsson spokesman Henry Stenson said the espionage involved the company's commercial telecommunications systems, and not its military-related work. "The Cold War is over, but evidently there is a continued interest in gathering information."

Stockholm-based Ericsson also makes radar systems for defense programs worldwide, including for the JAS-39 Gripen fighter planes made by Sweden's Saab and Britain's BAE Systems.

The suspects worked in the development unit but did not hold high-ranking positions, according to Ericsson.

Bavand was arrested in November while talking to a Russian intelligence agent near Stockholm. Police searched the Russian, who was not identified, and found $4,000 and Ericsson documents.

Sweden responded by expelling two Russian diplomats. Russia later expelled two Swedish diplomats, apparently in retaliation.