Rome — Italian police said on Wednesday that they had detained a Russian diplomat and arrested an Italian navy captain on suspicion of spying.
“Carabinieri police intervened during a clandestine meeting between the two, caught immediately after the transfer of a document by the Italian officer in exchange for a sum of money,” said a police statement. “Both are accused of serious crimes tied to espionage and state security.”
The Russian, accredited as a military attaché at the embassy in Rome, appears to have avoided being formally arrested thanks to his diplomatic immunity. A police statement said the man’s status was still under consideration, but Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said later that two Russian officials had been expelled in connection with an espionage case. It was not immediately clear who the two individuals were.
To arrest an embassy official would be highly unusual, as spy suspects are more often quietly deported to avoid diplomatic incidents.
The Italian Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to discuss the matter.
The Russian embassy said it hoped the incident would not affect bilateral relations with Italy, according to Russian state news agency RIA.
The police operation to detain the two men took place on Tuesday night, as the Italian frigate captain and the Russian official were meeting, the police statement said. According to Italy’s ANSA news agency, confidential NATO documents were among the materials the navy officer had attempted to provide to the Russian.
Police said the suspected spy in Italy’s navy was discovered after a long investigation led by AISI, Italy’s domestic intelligence bureau.