KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysia expelled three Soviet embassy officials today for spying and arrested a former political secretary of Deputy Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a government statement said.
The three officials were identified as agents of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, and accused of recruiting Mahathir's former secretary Siddiq Bin Mohamad Ghouse as a spy, the Home Affairs Ministry said.
Siddiq was charged under the nation's tough internal security act only three days before Mahathir was to become prime minister in place of ailing Datuk Hussein Own.
The three Soviet officials were identified as First Secretary G. I. Stephanov, Second Secretary V. P. Romanov and Z. L. Khanidouline, a non-diplomatic staff-member attached to the economic division of the embassy.
The activities of the Soviet officials were 'inadmissible and constitute a grave abuse of their positions as embassy officials,' the government said. 'These activities pose a direct threat to the country's security.'
It was believed the first time Soviet officials have been expelled from Malaysia for spying.
Home Affairs Minister Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie told reporters Siddiq had been under police surveillance since 1979 with the knowledge of Mahathir. He said Romanov met frequently with Siddiq and had turned him into a KGB agent.
Police seized special equipment supplied by the KGB, Ghazalie said.
The government statement referred to Siddiq as the former political secretary, but it was believed he was relieved of his position only shortly before his arrest.
Under the internal security act, Siddiq can be held indefinitely without trial and could received the death penalty.
Telephone calls to the Soviet embassy were not answered and no Soviet statement was issued.