British embassy ‘spy’ posed in Ukrainian football strip, described himself as ‘anti-Nato’ on social media and was tasked with ‘flushing out UK spies sent to Berlin when Russian dissident Alexei Navalny fled to city’
- David Smith, 57, was ‘activated’ by his Moscow handlers in November
- This was three months after Mr Navalny was evacuated to hospital in the German capital to be treated for poisoning with a nerve agent
- Mr Navalny, 44, who is President Vladimir Putin ‘s fiercest domestic critic, is serving a prison sentence in Russia after flying back to the country in January
The British Embassy worker accused of selling secrets to the Kremlin was tasked with flushing out UK spies sent to Berlin when Russian dissident Alexei Navalny fled to the city, security sources have told The Mail on Sunday.
David Smith, 57, was ‘activated’ by his Moscow handlers in November – three months after Mr Navalny was evacuated to a hospital in the German capital to be treated for poisoning with a nerve agent.
Mr Navalny, 44, who is President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest domestic critic, is serving a prison sentence in Russia after flying back to the country in January.
The sources say that after Mr Navalny was rushed in a convoy of ambulance and police cars to Berlin’s Charite hospital a year ago, British agents flooded the city to monitor the Russian spies sent from Moscow to follow him.
The British Embassy worker accused of selling secrets to the Kremlin was tasked with flushing out UK spies sent to Berlin when Russian dissident Alexei Navalny fled to the city, security sources have told The Mail on Sunday. David Smith, 57, was ‘activated’ by his Moscow handlers in November – three months after Mr Navalny was evacuated to a hospital in the German capital to be treated for poisoning with a nerve agent. (Above, Smith wields a knife while wearing a Ukrainian football club strip)
Military pose: David Smith wearing fatigues with an emblem on his shoulder that reads ‘Novorossiya’ – a Tsarist name for the separatist Russian puppet state in eastern Ukraine
Support: Holding a British passport and a piece of paper backing pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine
They believe that Smith was asked to provide the Kremlin with lists of personnel entering and leaving the British Embassy in an attempt to identify members of MI6 – despite the fact they would almost certainly have used false names to combat that threat.
One source said: ‘After Navalny was flown to Berlin, the city was full of Russian agents, who we wanted to keep an eye on. We think they used Smith as part of that game of cat and mouse.’
Images obtained exclusively by The Mail on Sunday have raised troubling questions about how Smith, a former junior RAF airman, was able to get a job as a security guard at the British Embassy.
He was arrested on Tuesday at his flat in Potsdam, on the outskirts of Berlin, on suspicion of passing information to the Kremlin for money.
Russian loot: Smith outside the magnificent 18th Century New Palace in Potsdam, Germany. Some of the palace’s treasures were looted by the Soviet army at the end of the Second World War
Tank top: Smith is pictured next to a Russian tank while wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word Russia
He is believed to have worked at the embassy for about four years and is strongly suspected by British intelligence services of being a double agent for the Russians.
He has been remanded in custody after being charged under German law with ‘activity as an agent for a foreign secret service’ and could face up to ten years in prison if convicted.
This newspaper has discovered that he may have been recruited by Russian handlers long before he started working for the British Government.
One photo on his Russian social media page, for which he used a false name, in July 2014 shows him posing outside the gates of the Russian Embassy in Berlin – just yards from the entrance to the British Embassy where he would later work.
In the ‘About Me’ section of his social media profile he wrote: ‘Anti Nato. Anti EU. Anti American,’ while the traits he values most in others are, ironically, ‘kindness and honesty’.
Two days after the Russian embassy photo, he posted a spoof picture of President Putin holding up a huge middle finger with the caption ‘F*** Nato’.
Another image depicts German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting on a toilet with the caption ‘Oh no, Russians are coming’, suggesting she is scared.
It was posted in 2015 – the same year that hackers working for the Russian state allegedly broke into computers used by the German parliament, including Merkel’s email account.
Deadly pose: Smith’s Ukrainian wife Svetlana, who he married in 2002, straddles an artillery gun barrel
Perhaps influenced by his Ukrainian wife, Svetlana, Smith regularly posted pictures in support of pro-Russian separatist groups in Ukraine.
In one image he is standing holding a piece of paper with the words: ‘Save Donbass People From Ukrainian Nazi Army’ in one hand and a UK passport in the other. The caption, which is in Russian, translates as: ‘I am a Scotsman living in Germany and this photo is in support of Donbass! F*** the European Union, GLORY NOVOROSSIYA [New Russia], GLORY RUSSIA!!!’
Another menacing photo shows him baring his teeth while wearing the strip of Ukrainian football team Dnipro while holding a long knife in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. It was posted a couple of weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in pro-Russia, rebel-held Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
The same day he uploaded a picture of himself posing in front of a Soviet tank while wearing a T-shirt that reads ‘Russia’ in Russian and one of his wife straddling an artillery gun barrel.
Alexei Navalny (above), 44, who is President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest domestic critic, is serving a prison sentence in Russia after flying back to the country in January
But other pictures illustrate that his obsession with Russia went beyond mere bravado.
In 2016 he uploaded a picture of Russia’s black, yellow and white imperial flag with ‘Sparta’ emblazoned across it in Russian.
The caption underneath read: ‘Death is only the beginning of a new life. RIP Motorola. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten.’ Motorola was the name used by Russian warlord Arsen Pavlov, who led the Sparta Battalion, an armed group fighting the Ukrainian army in the ongoing war in Donbass.
He was alleged to have committed war crimes, including torture and the killing of 15 prisoners of war in 2015. He was killed a year later by a bomb in a lift in his Donetsk flat.
Smith clearly continued to lead a double life as a pro-Putin loyalist under the noses of his bosses at the British Embassy. In January 2019 he posted a picture in the woods dressed in military fatigues with a stitched emblem on his shoulder that reads ‘Novorossiya’ – a Tsarist name for the separatist Russian puppet state in eastern Ukraine.
In May last year he posted a picture of himself in military fatigues with the Somalia Battalion emblem on the left shoulder.
The battalion is a paramilitary group from the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic. He is also pictured in front of the 18th Century New Palace in Potsdam. Soviet troops looted treasure from it in the Second World War.
It emerged last week that Smith was a former RAF serviceman and had been trained to use firearms as a member of the Germany Guard Service, a civilian force made up of ex-servicemen that protects military bases.
Smith and his wife were married in Scotland in 2002. Neighbours and local shop workers recognised pictures of the pair shown to them by this newspaper but said she had not been seen them for a while.
A neighbour, who lives with her husband in the flat above Smith, told the MoS about an allegedly serious domestic incident in 2018 between Smith and his wife.
She said: ‘One night there was lots of shouting and banging against the wall as if objects were being thrown around in their flat so I went down to talk to her and she [Svetlana] was drunk. She claimed she was on her own but the banging and shouting continued so we later called the police. They came and took her away but she was back the next day. We didn’t really see her again after that, I think she went back to Ukraine.’
German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Friday that Smith came to the attention of the security services because he did not use his debit or credit cards for some time.
The revelations come as Mr Navalny has been hit with a new charge that could extend his time in custody past the next Russian presidential election in 2024, as Putin cracks down on dissent ahead of September’s parliamentary election.
On Wednesday, Mr Navalny was charged with creating an organisation that ‘infringes on the personality and rights of citizens’ – punishable by up to three years in jail – by Moscow’s Investigative Committee, which claimed that Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation had incited Russians to break the law and take part in unauthorised protests demanding his release.
His escape to Berlin last year came after he had fallen ill during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow after drinking a cup of tea at the airport.
He was put on a ventilator in Omsk hospital, but doctors initially refused to release him on to a plane sent from Germany to collect him. After they relented, the doctors treating him in Berlin said he had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.
Additional reporting by Rob Hyde
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