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Colonel Convicted of Spying for MI6

A Moscow district military court Wednesday sentenced a retired intelligence officer to 13 years in prison on charges of spying for Britain.

Sergei Skripal, 55, a retired intelligence agency colonel, is believed to have passed sensitive data to the MI6 intelligence agency, an FSB spokesman said.

Sergei Fridinsky, the new chief military prosecutor, represented the state in a hearing held behind closed doors because of the top-secret nature of the proceedings, Moscow District Military Court spokesman Alexander Minchanovsky said.

Fridinsky said he was satisfied with the prison sentence, noting that Skripal had been found guilty on all counts. The prosecutor earlier asked the court to give the defendant 15 years behind bars.

Espionage is punishable in Russia by prison terms of 12 to 20 years.

In court, Skripal showed signs of regret and actively cooperated with investigators, Fridinsky said. That factor and Skripal's poor health could explain the court's leniency, he added.

Skripal, who pled guilty to the charges, has 10 days to appeal the verdict. It is unclear whether he will appeal.

Skripal will serve his term in a high-security penal camp. He will also be stripped of his military rank and previous military awards. Which camp Skripal is assigned to remains unknown.

Skripal's lawyer, Yelena Lebedeva-Romanova, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Skripal was recruited by MI6, Britain's chief spying organization, while on active duty in the mid-1990s. Collecting information from his former colleagues at the intelligence agency, he continued passing on state secrets to British agents after his retirement in 1999, they said.

It is not known if any of Skripal's former colleagues from the intelligence agency have been implicated in the case or are being investigated.

Court spokesman Yevgeny Komissarov said Skripal worked with MI6 from 1995 to 2004. The FSB spokesman declined to identify which Russian agency Skripal had worked in. Military intelligence is overseen by the Defense Ministry's main intelligence department.

The FSB did not disclose any details about the data passed on by Skripal to the British. Skripal is thought to have divulged information about Russian agents spying in Europe, most of whom have had to be replaced, Izvestia reported Wednesday.

The FSB said in a statement that it arrested Skripal in December 2004; the agency did not indicate how it learned of Skripal's activities. The case was turned over to the military district court in late June. The case had not been publicly disclosed until this week.

"Through his activities, the spy incurred substantial damage to the defensive capacity and security of our country," the FSB statement said.

Skripal was paid a regular, monthly salary by MI6, and he received extra money for each piece of information he passed on, the FSB said. That money was transferred to an account in Skripal's name in a Spanish bank. The military court's Komissarov said Skripal had been paid more than $100,000.

Skripal, a burly, balding man, was shown on Channel One television in a tracksuit Wednesday, standing in the defendant's cage during the reading of his sentence. The station also showed what it said was a copy of a bank statement from Skripal's Spanish account. The statement was reported to show transfers to Skripal ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

MI6 officials in London could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The agency's web site does not provide a telephone number or e-mail address but does include a postal address.

The British Embassy in Moscow declined to say anything about the case. "The British government never comments on intelligence issues," embassy spokesman Anjoum Noorani said.

Earlier this year, the FSB accused four British officials of espionage, saying a Russian citizen involved in the case had been detained and confessed to spying for London. No other information about the Russian citizen has been released.

Moscow district military courts have found six men guilty of divulging state secrets in the past six years, Komissarov said.

These cases included those of Lieutenant Colonel Igor Vylakov, a border guard sentenced in 2004 to 10 years in prison for spying for Estonia; and Colonel Alexander Sypachyov, who was given an eight-year sentence in 2002 for trying to pass sensitive information to U.S. authorities.


(The Moscow Times 10.viii.06)

 
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