Supreme Court part-annuls Gerli Mutso China spying conviction

The Supreme Court in Tartu.
The Supreme Court in Tartu. Source: Silver Gutmann/riigikohus

The Supreme Court has partly annulled a guilty verdict handed to an Estonian woman involved in espionage on behalf of the People's Republic of China, though the prison sentence handed to her remains unchanged.

Gerli Mutso was convicted of espionage on behalf of a foreign state just over a year ago, and was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years' prison time as a result.

While this sentence remains in effect, the Supreme Court's criminal chamber part-overturned Mutso's conviction, on the grounds of the period of time during which she collaborated with PRC intelligence beginning before a 2019 amendment to the Penal Code.

Previously, only acts on the part of Estonian citizens which directly threatened the independence and sovereignty of the country, ie. were aimed at that sovereignty being lost to a foreign country, were punishable.

The 2019 change broadened the scope of the offense, to include relations with foreign states which threaten Estonia's security in general, and/or which involve transmitting non-classified information to said state.

The Supreme Court found that Mutso knowingly cooperated with Chinese military intelligence for her own gain, which clearly harmed Estonia's security interests, but did not endanger Estonia's independence and territorial integrity, as per the benchmark up to 2019.

The court established that the wider goal of Chinese military intelligence was to gain access classified NATO information, with Mutso acting as their "sales representative," making of interest to her persons who had clearance access to state information, both Estonian and that of other countries, and those who had contact with NATO subordinates as part of their work.

In addition to being convicted of crimes against the state in June last year, the first-tier county court had also found her guilty of handling small quantities of illicit narcotics.

The eight-and-a-half-year sentence meted out to her was upheld by the second-tier circuit.

The prosecution had charged Mutso, 43, with working for the PRC's military intelligence between 2016 and 2020.Her task was to amass maritime, environmental and cyber security-related information about Estonia, the Baltic Sea region nd also the Arctic region.

With regard to the maritime aspect, Mutso managed to lure marine scientist Tarmo Kõuts into her espionage ring, and also attempted to do so with a high-ranking military officer.

Kõuts had been professionally involved in NATO countries' defense capability development projects.

With the June 2022 judgment, Mutso was also ordered to return the €21,607.52 she received as illegal proceeds in the course of her espionage activities, and to pay an additional €2,649 in costs.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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