A lawyer for a man jailed in Russia on espionage charges says Moscow is trying to reach a spy-for-spy swap deal with the U.S. government to repatriate one of the 10 suspects arrested in New York in the bust on an alleged spy-ring.
Nuclear weapons expert Igor Sutyagin is serving a 15-year sentence in Russia for allegedly passing information on nuclear submarines and missile-warning systems to the CIA via a front company in Britain. His lawyer tells Russian and British media the Kremlin is trying to broker a deal by which one of the U.S. suspects in New York would be freed in exchange for her client.
"They want to exchange Sutyagin for (one of) those accused of spying in the United States," attorney Anna Stavitskaya told the Reuters news agency, adding that Russian officials were hoping to see the swap come to fruition as soon as Wednesday.
Russian authorities would neither confirm nor deny the lawyer's claims Wednesday. CBS News' Svetlana Berdnikova reports that Stavitskaya was apparently relaying a claim to the media made by Sutyagin himself.
Relatives of Sutyagin claim he was moved on July 5 to a prison in Moscow from his previous residence at a penitentiary about 500 miles to the north in Arkhangelsk. The prison in Moscow would not confirm the move.
Stavitskaya told Reuters her client would be transferred first to Great Britain before being handed over to the United States if the swap deal was finalized.
Sutyagin's mother told a Russian news website that she met her son in Moscow's Lefortovo prison on Wednesday. She says he told her that the decision for him to be sent to Britain had already been made, and that it could happen Thursday.
"We are shocked, we do not understand what is going on, Igor himself does not understand anything," the imprisoned man's mother told "Gazeta.ru".
"He was told that he will be exchanged for a person whom Russia needs more than Igor Sutyagin, we haven't been given any further explanation," she told the website.
Sutyagin's brother Dmitry told reporters Wednesday that his brother said he was told of the arrangement by Russian officials who met him Tuesday at the prison in Arkhangelsk.
Sutyagin, a Russian, said he was made to sign a confession after his arrest in 1999, although he maintains his innocence and does not want to leave Russia, his brother said.
The British Foreign Office would not comment on the reports Wednesday morning, saying it was "primarily a matter for the U.S. authorities."
Meanwhile, the U.S. government said Tuesday it planned to appeal a decision to release one of the defendants in the Russian spy case on bail.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced the appeal four days after bail was set for a U.S. citizen charged in the case.
A magistrate judge in Manhattan had said the woman, Peruvian-born Vicky Pelaez, could be released on $250,000 bail with electronic monitoring and home detention. The judge said when he set bail that she could not be released before this week because it would take time to set up the bail requirements.
An appeal means that a bail hearing will occur before a federal judge, who will decide whether to uphold the findings of the magistrate judge.
In New York, Defense attorney John M. Rodriguez said Tuesday that he received a copy of a letter prosecutors had sent the court saying they were appealing the decision on Pelaez. He said he expected his client to remain jailed pending the outcome of a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Pelaez is among 11 defendants charged with being part of a spy ring that prosecutors say for the past decade has engaged in secret global travel with false passports, secret code words, fake names, invisible ink and encrypted radio.
The government has opposed the release on bail of any of the defendants, saying they would flee if they had the opportunity. Defendant Christopher Metsos disappeared on the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus soon after a judge there freed him on $32,500 bail. He had been charged by U.S. authorities with supplying funds to the other members of the alleged ring.
Pelaez, a prominent Spanish-language journalist, is the wife of a defendant identified in court documents as Juan Lazaro. Prosecutors say he has admitted that his wife passed letters to the Russian intelligence service on his behalf.
They say he also has admitted that the name Juan Lazaro is fake, that he wasn't born in Uruguay and that he is not a citizen of Peru, as he had long claimed.
Prosecutors say he also admits his home in Yonkers, N.Y., has been paid for by Russian intelligence.
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