Russians Seek Prisoner Swap in Spy Case, Lawyers Say
Russian officials and U.S. defense lawyers discussed a possible prisoner swap for accused Russian spy ring members while 10 alleged members of the ring are scheduled to be arraigned on criminal charges in Manhattan federal court later today.
As the 10 alleged Russian agents prepare to face charges, Russian military researcher Igor Sutyagin, convicted of espionage by a Russian court in 2004, was flown to Austria as part of the swap, RIA Novosti reported, citing his lawyer.
One of the accused agents, Anna Chapman, is to be flown to Moscow as part of a swap agreed between William Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Gazeta.ru reported today, citing an unidentified diplomat.
Lawyers for two of the defendants said yesterday that they were contacted by Russian officials seeking to negotiate a way to resolve the case.
“I’m in discussions with the government about a possible resolution with this case,” Robert Baum, Chapman’s attorney, said in an interview, referring to U.S. prosecutors. “I have also spoken with officials from the Russian Federation. I can only say we’ve had very sensitive discussions.”
Russian officials met Chapman, who Baum said was 28, on July 4. Two days later, they discussed a possible swap with him, Baum said.
Born in Peru
John Rodriguez, a lawyer for defendant Vicky Pelaez, 55, a columnist for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario La Prensa in New York, said in an interview that he also was contacted yesterday by Russian officials. Pelaez is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Peru, Rodriguez said.
“There was a phone call from a member of the Russian Federation in New York concerning my client, asking if she was interested in going to Russia,” he said. “I said I didn’t think she would.”
In the indictment unsealed yesterday, 11 of the defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent of a foreign country. Nine also are charged with one count of conspiracy to launder money. The accusations are similar to those contained in two criminal complaints unsealed June 28 by prosecutors in the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Baum said his client, who is being held in solitary confinement at a federal jail in Brooklyn, New York, had initially wanted to stay in the U.S. to fight the charges. He said that U.S. officials informed him that she would no longer be allowed to have contact visits.
“It’s one more aspect of the abusive detention concerning my client,” Baum said, adding that he hoped negotiations between U.S. and Russian officials could be resolved “one way or another” by today.
Federal prosecutor Michael Farbiarz said in court last week that under questioning, Pelaez’s husband, Juan Lazaro, admitted he wasn’t born in Uruguay and that Lazaro isn’t his real name.
Lazaro said that while he “loved his son, he would not violate his loyalty to the ‘Service’ even for his son,” Farbiarz said, referring to the Russian spy agency known as SVR.
Genesis Peduto, a lawyer for Lazaro, said her client denied the allegations in the indictment.
Not a Russian
“My client has said he’s innocent of the charges and that he’s not a Russian, he’s from Uruguay,” Peduto said in an interview outside the courthouse. “He did not make the statements the U.S. said he did.”
Peduto said Lazaro wasn’t interested in going to Russia in a swap.
“His wife is here, his life is here, his work is here,” she said.
She would not say whether Russian officials had gotten in touch with her.
Five defendants in custody in Massachusetts and northern Virginia were ordered transferred to New York for prosecution in the case yesterday. Five others are in custody in New York. An 11th member of the alleged ring, Christopher Metsos, was arrested in Cyprus and then fled after he was released June 29 on bail of 20,000 euros ($24,500).
Ring of Agents
The government claims the 11 were connected to a ring of agents who worked to blend in with their U.S. surroundings while attempting to infiltrate American policy-making circles.
With the indictment, the case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood. She scheduled an arraignment of the 10 in U.S. custody for today.
In a letter to Wood, prosecutors also appealed a magistrate’s decision to release Pelaez on bail. Wood agreed to put a hold on Pelaez’s release pending a July 9 bond hearing. U.S. Magistrate Ronald Ellis agreed on July 1 to release Pelaez on $240,000 bond secured by $10,000 in cash.
Mark Toner, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said yesterday that the case was discussed at a meeting between William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“That wasn’t the main purpose of the meeting, but I believe the case was discussed,” Toner said.
The case is U.S. v. Metsos, 10-cr-00598, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).