When we talk about New Zealand it’s usually rolling pastures, Lord of the Rings, and jaw-dropping scenery that comes to mind. When we talk about the secret police of the Soviet Union, the KGB, we are usually drawn to images of espionage taking place on gloomy streets or proxy wars in third world countries. Naturally, the two are rarely aligned with each other. So when I discovered this photo of a KGB agent running down the streets of Wellington, New Zealand in 1964, I was as intensely curious as you probably are. This is Friends for a Season – the story behind William Sutch.

According to Lifehack.org, there are 3 types of friends we will meet in our life: Friends for a lifetime, friends for a reason, and friends for a season. When it comes to the latter two, William Sutch met both in the form of Dimitri Aleksandrovich Razgovorov, a Soviet KGB agent posing as a diplomat in Wellington, New Zealand.

friends for a season
William Sutch (far right).

Sutch, a prominent economist who held a senior position in the public service, had been attending various meetings with Razgovorov in the run-up to the fateful night when the photograph was taken. The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) believed that Sutch was in fact providing intelligence to Razgovorov and his KGB bosses. As a result, a surveillance operation was launched against the Sutch and the man with who he had become friends for a season, Razgovorov.

One night in September 1974, the pair had scheduled another meeting at Aro Valley Park in Wellington, New Zealand. This night, SIS had surrounded the meeting point and were determined to spring into action and capture Razgovorov alongside his source and friend for a season, William Sutch. However, when a burst of rain suddenly appeared out of nowhere, the SIS agents found their view obscured. The rain caused the suspects to cut their meeting short. In the confusion, Razgovorov and his driver, who was apparently clutching a parcel, managed to successfully escape and Razgovorov was snapped in this photo in the process.

This photo of a fleeing KGB agent in New Zealand stems from William Sutch who made friends for a season with some sinister people, or did he?
KGB agent Razgovorov running down the street whilst being snapped on an undercover SIS camera.

Sutch arrested before being taken to court and put on trial in what was to become the only case of espionage in the history of New Zealand. Sutch was charged with espionage under the Official Secrets Act. The five-day trial largely focused on the meetings between Sutch and Razgovorov, with Sutch denying he knew who he was. The defense argued Sutch had denied meeting with Razgovorov because he was embarrassed and confused about the incident, not because he had anything to hide.

Sutch was found to be in possession of a series of pen drawings of other high ranking New Zealand officials he worked alongside. Many were said to have been very proactive and critical detailing the sexual traits and drinking habits of some. However, Razgovorov’s escape meant that SIS had no evidence of Sutch passing any intelligence to the KGB.

At the end of the five-day trial, Sutch was found not guilty. The case had taken a toll on his health, and he died in hospital around a year after the incident on the 28th of September 1975. For years, Sutch was surrounded by controversy and conspiracy. 40 years after his death, new evidence emerged when KGB documents came to public attention.

Friends for a Season or Something Deeper?

The documents, heavily disputed by the living relatives of Sutch, claim that he was indeed a KGB spy despite being a well respected senior bureaucrat who influenced several prime ministers. Whilst the documents do not name Sutch, they detail a New Zealand operative with the codename ”Maori”. Interestingly, they even reveal the KGB’s New Zealand budget and show that their safe held a surplus of $2504.64 the year that Sutch was arrested.

“if the KGB file doesn’t provide a smoking gun, says espionage writer Aaron Fox, “there’s certainly a spent cartridge lying around”.

– Aaron Fox, Espionage Writer

The KGB documents, released by KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin in 1992 and only recently made public, show that it’s possible Sutch was recruited in 1950. The KGB claim to have recruited an “ex-high ranking official in state machinery” born in 1907, obtained a Ph.D., and retired in 1965. According to stuff.co.nz, this profile is a perfect match to Sutch who, after being born in June 1907, held a Ph.D. and retired as the head of the Department of Industries and Commerce in 1965.

It would appear that Sutch was recruited in New York as he was secretary-general of New Zealand’s United Nations delegation there from 1947 to 1951. However, due to Sutch not being named in the documents he still maintains an air of mystery and many unanswered questions about his intentions years after death. The true answer lies in Sutch’s example of friends for a season who managed to escape: Dimitri Aleksandrovich Razgovorov.

Whilst we highly advise against making the same type of friends for a season that Sutch did, we do advise you check out our article on how to make a Russian friend when travelling to the country in order to get the most out of your visit – A Russian Friend and 5 Ways to Make One.