MOSCOW: Russia announced on Tuesday it would seek a 20-year prison term for a top spy whose cooperation with the United States led to last year's humiliating expulsion of 10 of Moscow's sleeper agents. The Federal Security Service (FSB) said it has concluded its probe into the former deputy head of its US clandestine operations department and charged him with treason and desertion.
Russian media have identified the suspect as Alexander Poteyev and said he has been living in the United States since last year. Security officials believe trial will be held absentia.
“The FSB investigative department has concluded its investigation into Russian citizen A. N. Poteyev,” news agencies quoted an FSB statement as saying.
“The indictment was submitted to the Moscow district military tribunal for a hearing on April 21,” the Russian security service statement added.
The exposure of the spies — who included the media sensation Anna Chapman and others who worked on the US East Coast — left some intelligence officials conceding that their US surveillance programme had been dealt a brutal blow.
Former spy and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin used a national television appearance in December to call the double agent a “pig” who will “regret it a thousands times over”.
One security agent told the Kommersant business daily last year that Russia was likely to organise a hit-squad to hunt down Poteyev in the United States — an assertion later refuted by Putin.
A security source said details about the case against Poteyev are unlikely to be made public until after the verdict because of its sensitivity to Russia' national security.
“Such cases usually involved secret investigations,” one security source told Interfax. “The information can only be released after the verdict goes into effect.”
Various Russian and Western media reports have painted Poteyev as a hardened intelligence officer who began his career in Afghanistan and worked in a crack unit that tried to install a pro-Moscow regime in Kabul in 1979.
He is believed to be a native of Belarus and worked as a foreign intelligence officer in New York after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 before returning to Moscow.
Multiple reports said Poteyev had until last year served as the deputy head of the US department of Directorate C — a cover operations agency involved in placing sleeper agents in foreign countries who try to pass off as locals.
“He fled Russia a few days before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's June trip to Washington and is currently in the United States,” Interfax quoted an unnamed security official as saying.
The same source said that both the man's daughter and son had fled to the United States “under various pretences” in the days preceding his own departure from Russia.
“His wife has been living in the States from some time now,” the official said.
“These circumstances ... clearly accentuate the already severe miscalculation of our secret services,” the security official said.
The United States announced the 10 Russians' arrest just days after Medvedev's visit and eventually swapped them for four Russians who allegedly spied for the West.
The 10 exposed agents were personally greeted on their return to Russia by Putin and several have since established lucrative business careers.
The 29-year-old Chapman has particularly cashed in on her fame by becoming the fodder of gossip papers and gracing the covers of various magazines as well as hosting her own TV show about supernatural events.
The 10 were exchanged for four jailed Russians that included Igor Sutyagin — a respected scientist who on Tuesday was awarded 20,000 euros in damages by the European Court of Human Rights for his treatment by the authorities.—AFP