Speculation growing of US-Russia ‘spy swap’


BBC News | Thursday, 8 July 2010 | 13:16 GMT

Igor Sutyagin Speculation is growing that the US and Russia are preparing a Cold War-style prisoner swap. The US lawyer defending one of 10 suspected Russian spies has said the case may be resolved when they face formal charges later on Thursday. Reporters have been gathering at a Moscow jail where a Russian convicted of spying for the US was recently moved from a prison in the far north. Neither Russian nor U.S. authorities have commented on the reports of a swap. Five suspects detained in Massachusetts and Virginia are being brought to New York to face charges along with five already held in the city. A federal indictment against the 10, and an 11th suspect who went missing after being released on bail in Cyprus, was unsealed on Wednesday.

It charges all 11 with conspiring to act as secret agents, and nine of them with conspiracy to commit money-laundering. A lawyer for one of the accused said he had spoken to US prosecutors and Russian officials about a speedy resolution to the case and that a swap could be finalised on Thursday. "I feel our discussions will probably be resolved by tomorrow one way or another," Anna Chapman’s lawyer Robert Baum was quoted as saying by the New York Times. Another lawyer said it was possible that some or all of the defendants would plead guilty at their arraignment hearing in New York on Thursday, allowing them to be speedily deported. The 10 were arrested last month on suspicion of conspiring to work as illegal agents for the Russian government. The crime is less serious than espionage but carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Nine of the group are also accused of money laundering.

‘List of names’

Special riot police beefed up security around Moscow’s Lefortovo prison on Thursday as TV cameramen and photographers jostled for the best position to witness the possible transfer of nuclear scientist Igor Sutyagin, jailed in Russia for spying for the CIA. Sutyagin was moved earlier this week from a prison in the far north of Russia to 

Tight security  Lefortovo, where he was allowed to meet his family. His lawyer and family said he would be flown on Thursday to Vienna, then London, as part of an exchange of prisoners. Sutyagin is a nuclear specialist serving a 15-year jail sentence after being convicted in 2004 of passing information to a UK firm allegedly used as a front by the CIA. "They want to exchange Sutyagin for one of those arrested in the United States for spying," the lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, said on Wednesday. "They want the swap to take place tomorrow." His brother Dmitry said Igor was told by Russian officials before he was moved that he would be released and sent to the UK in exchange for an unknown number of spies.

US officials were present at the meeting, Dmitry said, adding that his brother had seen a list of about 10 Russian prisoners that the US had given Moscow that included Sergei Skripal. Skripal is a Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer convicted of spying for the UK in 2006. Russian newspaper Kommersant said the list included Alexander Zaporozhsky, a former employee of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence who was jailed for 18 years for espionage in 2003, and Alexander Sypachev, sentenced in 2002 to eight years in jail for spying for the CIA. It remains unclear whether the suspects held in New York are to be involved in any swap but, in a move that fuelled speculation, a top US diplomat met the Russian ambassador to Washington. No details were given of the talks between undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns, a former US ambassador to Moscow and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak other than the fact that the issue of spies came up in the meeting, in which they also discussed Iran.

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