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Indictment returned against 11 accused of spying for Russia

July 07, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) -- An indictment has been returned in New York against 11 defendants accused of spying for Russia.

The indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday charges all 11 defendants with conspiring to act as secret agents in the United States on behalf of the Russian Federation.

Nine of the defendants were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The 11 defendants who were arrested last week already faced the same charges in criminal complaints.

The defendants were accused of living seemingly ordinary lives in America while they acted as unregistered agents for the Russian government, sending secret messages and carrying out orders they received from their Russian contacts.

The Cold War-style intrigue over the reputed spy ring deepened Wednesday as word emerged of a possible scheme to swap Russians who hid in American suburbia for an imprisoned arms-control researcher and others who passed secrets to the U.S.

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Dmitry Sutyagin says his brother Igor, who is serving a 14-year prison term, was told he is among convicted spies who are to be exchanged for Russians arrested by the FBI.

Officials from both the United States and Russia refused to comment on the claim, but Dmitry Sutyagin said his brother could be whisked off to Vienna and then to London for a planned exchange as early as Thursday.

Igor Sutyagin was told by Russian officials that he and other convicted spies are to be exchanged for the 10 Russians arrested by the FBI last month, his brother said. U.S. officials were also at the meeting held Monday at a prison in Arkhangelsk, in northwestern Russia, his brother said.

The spy swap, if confirmed, would continue a pattern of spy exchanges began during the Cold War. In one of those most famous cases, downed U.S. U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged for KGB spy Col. Rudolph Abel in 1962.

Sutyagin said he was forced to sign a confession, although he maintains his innocence and does not want to leave Russia, his homeland, his brother said.

"For him this all was a huge shock, totally unexpected," his brother said at a news conference. "For the first time in all these years I see him so depressed. He is mostly upset because of two things: he had to sign that paper, basically admit his guilt, and that he has to leave the country."

After the meeting, Sutyagin was transferred to Moscow's Lefortovo prison, which is run by the main KGB successor agency.

"Regardless of this exchange, Sutyagin knows that he is not guilty, he did not commit those crimes, and for him it is very painful that he is accused of it and found guilty," said his lawyer Anna Stavitskaya. "He is very upset that because of this situation his good name could be put in doubt."

Sutyagin's mother, Svetlana Sutyagina said that he also realized that rejecting the swap offer would mean keeping some of the alleged Russian spies in custody.

According to his brother, Sutyagin said the Russian officials had shown him a list of 11 people to be included in the swap. The brother said Sutyagin only remembered one other person on the list -- Sergei Skripal -- a colonel in the Russian military intelligence who in 2006 was sentenced to 13 years on charges of spying for Britain.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Federal Penitentiary Service said they had no comment on the claim and a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy was not immediately available for comment.

In Washington, both FBI spokesman William Carter and the State Department declined to comment. However, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, a former American ambassador to Moscow, had a Wednesday meeting scheduled with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Officials declined to comment on the reason for the meeting.

Sutyagin, who worked as an arms control and military analyst at the Moscow-based U.S.A. and Canada Institute, a top think tank, was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear submarines and other weapons to a British company that investigators claimed was a CIA cover. Sutyagin has all along denied that he was spying, saying the information he provided was available from open sources.

His case was one of several incidents of Russian academics and scientists being targeted by Russia's Federal Security Service and accused of misusing classified information, revealing state secrets or, in some cases, espionage.

The United States arrested 10 people on June 27 and charged them with being in an alleged spy ring and trying to obtain information about American business, scientific and political affairs. Prosecutors say for the last decade the alleged spies engaged in secret global travel with false passports, secret code words, fake names, invisible ink and encrypted radio.

They have been charged with acting as unregistered foreign agents.

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