William Sutch charged with spying

27 September 1974

Bill Sutch (left) with his wife and lawyer, 1975 (Alexander Turnbull Library, EP-1974-6745a)

On a rainy night, Security Intelligence Service (SIS) agents gatecrashed a meeting between William Sutch and Dimitri Razgovorov in Aro St, Wellington. The SIS believed that Sutch, a prominent economist and former senior public servant, was passing information to Razgovorov, a Soviet diplomat.

The pair had been under surveillance since April, after the SIS chanced upon what they interpreted as a secret meeting between them.

Taken into police custody that night, Sutch initially denied knowing Razgovorov but later admitted he had met the Russian socially. He was charged with espionage under the Official Secrets Act.

The trial began on 17 February 1975 and lasted five days. The Crown’s case focused on the meetings between Razgovorov and Sutch, and the latter’s initial denial that he knew the former. The defence argued he had denied meeting with Razgovorov because he was embarrassed and confused, not because he had anything to hide.

After seven hours’ deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The case had taken a toll on Sutch’s health, and he died in hospital on 28 September 1975.