A prominent Estonian Navy specialist with high-security clearance was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to spying for Beijing.
Tarmo Kõuts, 57, was arrested in September last year and admitted to spying for a foreign state, charges that are not tantamount to treason. His conviction last week made him the first Estonian to have been linked to Chinese espionage since the Baltic country split from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Kouts was first recruited by Chinese military intelligence in 2018, according to Aleksander Toots, deputy director of Estonia’s counterintelligence agency, the Homeland Security Service.
Kouts was motivated by “traditional human weaknesses” like money, Toots told Delfi, an important means of communication in Estonia.
Prosecutors confirmed that Kõuts profited 17,000 euros (about $ 20,296) from the conspiracy, which was confiscated from him. A woman who allegedly acted as an accomplice was arrested the same day as Kuts and has not yet been tried.
Kosuts have a high level of security clearance as part of the country’s NATO Maritime Research Center. He was also a member of the scientific council of the Estonian Ministry of Defense between 2006 and 2012, and a senior researcher at Estonia’s only technical university, the Tallinn University of Technology. He had worked on projects focused on the Arctic, one of the issues that, along with climate and trade, has attracted special interest from the Chinese regime, as reported by Estonian counterintelligence in a recent annual report.
In 2016, a project focusing on the Arctic to which Kõuts joined received more than five million euros (about $ 6 million) from the European Union, according to Delfi.
His knowledge and access to confidential information were among the reasons why prosecutors decided to act soon and end their activities, Toots said.
Toots declined to reveal what information Kõuts provided to the Chinese but confirmed that Kõuts had not compromised any state secrets.
He noted that a common tactic of Chinese intelligence services to capture targets is to fill them with luxuries and gifts.
They approached Kuts under the facade of a group of experts, Toots said. He received cash income and paid travel to Asia, which includes stays at luxury hotels and dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants, according to the Daily Beast.
Harrys Puusepp, head of the Homeland Security Service’s office, told Estonian public broadcaster ERR that the Kuts’ three-year sentence was part of a court settlement.
“Chinese intelligence certainly has an interest in this field,” he said, adding that “it is also important to make it clear that this did not happen accidentally.”
He said that his agency has sounded alarms about these espionage risks, but “this is the first time that this alert has been confirmed by a court decision”.
The university has suspended contracts with Kuts, as shown on the school’s website records.
Source: with Agencies