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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Estonian Sent to Prison For Spying for Moscow

TALLINN, Estonia -- An Estonian court convicted a former top security official of treason Wednesday for passing domestic and NATO secrets to Russia, the Baltic country's biggest espionage scandal since the Cold War.

Herman Simm, the former head of security at the Estonian Defense Ministry, was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison in a trial that was kept secret until the verdict was announced Wednesday.

The Harju County Court did not specify which country the 61-year-old handed the secrets to, but investigators later said he passed on nearly 3,000 documents to Russia.

"Starting from 1995 until his arrest in 2008, Herman Simm collected and forwarded classified Estonian and NATO information -- hundreds of pages -- to the Russian foreign intelligence service," said Norman Aas, Estonia's chief prosecutor. "Also, he passed on personal information on some Estonian individuals, something that may damage Estonia's interests."

Most of the documents concerned Estonia's defense policy, defense systems and foreign relations, but they also included information on NATO communication systems, investigators said, adding they have been working with the alliance on the case. Estonia joined NATO in 2004.

In a brief statement, the court said Simm was also sentenced to pay 20.2 million kroons ($1.7 million) in damages to the Estonian Defense Ministry.

Prosecutors said Simm pleaded guilty and cooperated during the investigation. In return, they didn't seek the maximum 15-year sentence.

Security Police chief Raivo Aeg and prosecutor Lavly Lepp said Simm, who climbed the ranks of newly independent Estonia's police force in the early 1990s, started working for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, when he joined the Defense Ministry in 1995.

They said Simm met three or four times a year in various European countries with his SVR handlers, identified as Valery Zentsov and Sergei Jakovlev. An international arrest warrant has been issued Jakovlev, who is also known under a fake Portuguese identity as Jesus Amorett Graf, Aeg said.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement with Simm.

A civil servant with a background typical of a Soviet technocrat, Simm was trained at the Interior Ministry Academy, which in the Cold War era had links with the KGB. A year later he switched to the Defense Ministry, where he eventually became head of a security unit in 2000. Simm was removed from his position in 2006.