VILNIUS (Reuters) - A Lithuanian court on Thursday sentenced a former employee of the state air traffic company to three years and three months in prison after finding him guilty of spying for Belarus in a case prosecutors say also involved Russia.
The ruling came a day after leaders of nine ex-communist European countries, including the three Baltic republics, said in a joint statement they were very concerned by Russia’s “continuing aggressive posturing” and backed the deployment of a sustainable NATO military presence in their region.
Lithuanian prosecutors said they believed any information provided by the defendant, Romualdas Lipskis, to Belarus was shared with Russia’s secret services.
“As far as I can remember, this is the first spy to be sentenced in Lithuania,” Audrius Cininas, the presiding judge, told Reuters.
Lipskis, 58, testified that his handler, a staffer of Belarus’ secret service based in Lithuania, was interested in information about an alleged secret CIA “rendition” jail in Lithuania as well as registration numbers of NATO military aircraft, the court said.
Lithuanian prosecutors have reopened an investigation into allegations that state security officials helped the CIA run a secret jail in the Baltic state as part of the agency’s global programme to interrogate al Qaeda suspects.
Lipskis passed several copies of non-secret documents and described his impressions from a business visit to Siauliai airport, where NATO’s Baltic air policing mission is based, Cininas told Reuters.
Lipskis’s lawyer told reporters he would appeal against the verdict, the local BNS news agency said.
Lithuania, along with fellow NATO members Estonia and Latvia, has accused Russia of stepping up incursions into its airspace and territorial waters over the last year amid increased tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.
Reporting By Andrius Sytas; Editing by Gareth Jones