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Austrian ex-intelligence officer who spied on Christo Grozev arrested after The Insider and Der Spiegel investigation

Photo: Egisto Ott; Source: zackzack.at

Egisto Ott, a former Austrian intelligence officer who spied on investigative journalist Christo Grozev, has been arrested following the publication of a joint investigation by The Insider and Der Spiegel. According to a report by the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, Ott is suspected of selling data from the smartphones of three high-ranking Austrian officials to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The data was extracted while the phones were being repaired after suffering water damage.

Ott, then an employee of Austria's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung, B), reportedly handed over the data retrieved from the smartphones to the FSB in the summer of 2022. Der Standard reports that the information initially emerged from the UK amid the ongoing British investigation into Jan Marsalek, the fugitive former Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the German payment firm Wirecard.

Prosecutors believe Ott used his position at the BVT to gain access to the confidential information and then sell it on to former BVT official Martin Weiss, who in turn worked for Jan Marsalek. The Vienna prosecutor's office specified that two people had been arrested as part of the same case, but stopped short of naming the second suspect publly.

The stolen smartphones belonged to: Michael Kloibmüller, who headed the cabinet of the Austrian interior ministry for many years; Federal Police Director Michael Takacs; and Gernot Maier, Director of the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum (BFA). The phones were damaged as a result of an accident in 2017: while traveling on Interior Ministry business, a boat carrying the officials capsized and their smartphones ended up in the water. A BVT technician tasked with fixing the devices from water damage then copied the data from the devices and handed it to Ott. The specialist is also currently under investigation.

Private correspondence from Kloibmüller's smartphone later found itself in the possession of the press, leading to an anti-corruption investigation against the official. Data from the smartphones of Takacs and Meier was not made public. As noted by Der Standard, Ott and his accomplices were apparently unable to hack them, which may be why they decided to hand them over to the FSB.

Former Wirecard COO Jan Marsalek disappeared in June 2020, along with several billion dollars. A month later, The Insider and Bellingcat managed to prove that the fraudster had fled to either Russia or Belarus and had long-standing ties with the FSB.

On March 1 of this year, a joint investigation by The Insider and Der Spiegel revealed the details of how Marsalek was recruited. It also shared the particulars of how Marsalek had actively cooperated with the Wagner Group, passed the data he received from the European intelligence officers working for him to Russia, and helped set up the surveillance of Christo Grozev.

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