Court sentences Estonian marine scientist to prison for spying for China

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Prison service. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Noted Estonian marine scientist Tarmo Kõuts has been sentenced to three years in prison for spying for China.

Kõuts, 57, was convicted of maintaining a relationship antagonistic to Estonia as well as of participating in intelligence activities against Estonia and was sentenced to three years imprisonment by the Tallinn-based Harju County Court.

The proceeds of the crime, approximately €17,000, were confiscated from Tallinn University of Technology researcher Kõuts.

Public Prosecutor Inna Ombler told BNS that Chinese intelligence is also interested in people who possess information concerning the security of the Republic of Estonia, the European Union and partners.

"As the disclosure of court proceedings has been limited and part of the criminal case is still in closed proceedings, the prosecutor's office cannot currently disclose exactly what information Tarmo Kõuts handed over to Chinese intelligence in the commission of crimes against the state," she said.

Kõuts was arrested by the Internal Security Service on September 9 last year.

From 2006 to 2014, Kõuts was a member of the scientific committee of the Ministry of Defense, and from 2006 to 2012, a member of the scientific committee of NATO's Center for Maritime Research and Experimentation, previously named NATO Undersea Research Center.

Kõuts was named after former Admiral Tarmo Kõuts, Commander of the Defense Forces.

US news portal the Daily Beast wrote that Aleksander Toots, the deputy director of KAPO and Tallinn's top counterintelligence official, said Kõuts was recruited in 2018 by China's Intelligence Bureau of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission—as Beijing's military intelligence agency is known—along with an alleged accomplice who is yet to be tried in court. Both were arrested on September 2020, with no publicity or discussion of the case in the Estonian media.

Kõuts pleaded guilty to conducting intelligence activities against the Republic of Estonia on behalf of a foreign state. The charges were one stop short of treason. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Kõuts was recruited on Chinese territory, said Toots, who spoke exclusively with The Daily Beast and Estonia's Eesti Ekspress newspaper (link in Estonian): "He was motivated by traditional human weaknesses, such as money and need of recognition."

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Editor: Helen Wright

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