Stig Bergling: Spy who gave the Soviets thousands of documents and made an escape which caused a scandal in Sweden


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The Independent Online

Stig Bergling was a Swedish security officer who sold secrets to the Soviet Union during the Cold War and brazenly escaped while serving a life sentence for espionage.

He worked for both SAPO, the Swedish security service, and the military, turning over thousands of documents tduring the 1970s in one of Sweden’s biggest spy scandals. Among other things, he gave Moscow details about the location of coastal defence sites and weapon systems, forcing neutral Sweden to revamp much of its defence system after he was caught in Israel in 1979.

Bergling worked at SAPO in the surveillance department. He was also an officer in the military reserves and for a short period worked for the Defence Staff, where he stole documents about Swedish military installations which he sold to the GRU, the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence agency. He sold the documents during a UN mission in Lebanon in 1973. When he came back home, he continued delivering information about SAPO’s operations in Sweden. SAPO discovered there was a leak and suspected Bergling, though without proof. He applied to work for the United Nations but was arrested in Israel in March 1979.

After being sent back to Sweden he was sentenced to life in prison, but fled while on leave in 1987. He absconded during a conjugal visit with his wife, Elisabeth, in a flat in suburban Stockholm. With police watching the entrance, Bergling fled through a back door. The couple took a ferry to Finland, where authorities lost track of them as they contacted the Soviet Embassy and got help to flee.

His escape was a major embarrassment for Sweden’s liberal prison system and prompted the resignation of the justice minister. “It is every prisoner’s duty to try to escape,” he said in 2003, adding he had planned the escape for three years. He called his time on the run “the most exciting time of my life.” Under the alias of Ivar and Elisabeth Straus the couple lived in Moscow, and later in Hungary.However, in autumn 1990 as the Soviet Union was collapsing, they moved to Lebanon, and returned to Sweden in 1994, saying they were homesick. He went back to prison, but was released in 1997 after his life sentence was commuted.

Sven-Ake Hjalmroth, who headed Sweden’s security service in 1976-1987, compared Bergling to Sweden’s most notorious spy, Stig Wennerstrom, a Swedish air force officer who gave secrets to the Soviets for 15 years. “There is no doubt that these two were the most serious spy cases that we’ve had,” he said. “He was a mole in our operations and that’s always serious in a security service.”

Stig Svante Eugen Bergling, security officer and spy: born 1 March 1937; twice married; died 24 January 2015.