Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Russians Report a Prisoner Swap in the Works

"A scientist jailed in Russia [arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2004 (Guardian 7-7-10)] for passing military secrets to Britain, Igor Sutyagin, is reported to have said he is among 10 people that Russia is preparing to exchange for those held by the Americans....He claims he will be expelled from Russia in the next few days, possibly to Britain."---Australia's ABC News (7-7-10)

Reports from Russia that are being repeated in Western media claim that a prisoner swap may be in the works to bring back the 10 Russian spies. The Russians seem to be in a big hurry. They want to arrange a prisoner swap faster than most of us can get an appointment at the beauty parlor for cut and color.

RIA Novosti (7-7-10) reports:

Russia could swap a scientist jailed for spying for the West for one of the suspected Russian agents detained in the U.S. high-profile spy scandal.

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms control and nuclear weapons specialist, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Archangelsk, northwest Russia, in April 2004 for sharing state secrets with U.S. military intelligence. [See full text.]

The U.K. Guardian (7-7-10) reports:

Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear scientist who has spent five years in a sub-Arctic penal colony for allegedly giving state secrets to the CIA, is to be sent to Britain as part of the exchange. Sutyagin was convicted in 2004 of passing secret material on atomic submarines and missile warning systems to a British-based consultancy firm called Alternative Futures. Prosecutors in Moscow said the company was a front for the US espionage agency.

Sutyagin, who had been serving out his sentence at a "harsh regime" prison colony near Arkhangelsk in north-west Russia was abruptly moved to Moscow's Lefortovo jail on Monday.

There has been no official confirmation of the planned exchange, but Sutyagin's relatives said Russian intelligence officers had told them at a Lefortovo meeting that the scientist would be freed tomorrow.

Speaking from the city of Obninsk near Moscow, the scientist's father, Vyacheslav Sutyagin said: "My wife Svetlana and Igor's brother, Dmitry, met an officer from the Foreign Intelligence Service [SVR] at Lefortovo, who explained the plan.

"He said that Igor and nine other people who they have rounded up in Russia will be swapped for the spies who were arrested in the United States. It was not clear why, but it seems that Igor will go to Austria tomorrow, and from there to Britain."

Vyacheslav Sutyagin said he understood another of the people to be swapped would be Sergei Skripal, a Russian military intelligence officer jailed for treason for passing secrets to MI6 in the 1990s. [See full text.]

The NYT (7-7-10) describes the deal that may be emerging on the U.S. end:

The proposed resolution could allow all the defendants to plead guilty to fewer charges or charges carrying lesser penalties or even time served, and it could result in deportations or agreements that allow them to return to Russia.

The proposed resolution could lead to a series of relatively quick guilty pleas, allowing the defendants to receive some kind of legal benefit and the government to avoid a series of protracted trials.

All 10 defendants who are in custody have been charged with conspiring to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government, and eight were also charged with conspiring to commit money laundering. The eight could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Another defendant is at large.

Prosecutors have not accused the defendants of passing classified information to their Russian handlers. But a resolution would allow the United States government to avoid a long legal battle in which sensitive information about intelligence techniques could be exposed.

Such a deal would also eliminate the possibility that a high-profile case would serve as an irritant to relations between the United States and Russia. Although both countries have made clear they do not expect the charges to damage relations, the case has dominated worldwide news accounts in the past week, and indictments and potential trials could keep the case on the front pages for months to come.

Neither defense lawyers nor the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan would comment on any such talks, and the talks may end up going nowhere. But court documents made public last week by the government show that some defendants were freely discussing their ties to Russian intelligence and perhaps that will ease the way to negotiated pleas. [See full text.]

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