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Moscow group rebuts spy claims, admits U.K. official gave grant

MOSCOW, January 23 (RIA Novosti) - The head of a prominent human rights group has said a grant issued to it by the British Embassy in Moscow in 2004 could have been signed off by a diplomat named as a spy in a Russian television program, but questioned the relevance of which official put pen to paper.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), said it made no difference who signed the grant off.

"We did receive a grant from the British embassy two years ago," Alexeyeva said. "I do not remember who signed it off. It could have been [First Secretary] Marc Doe, given his position in the embassy. But does it really matter?"

The state-run Rossiya television channel reported Sunday evening that the human rights group had received 23,000 pounds (about $40,000) in October 2004, signed off by Doe.

Alexeyeva, who admitted she had met with Doe personally, said the grant had allowed MHG members and partners in Russia's regions to study international documents on human rights at the Human Rights Center at the University of Essex and learn how to apply them in Russia.

The role of NGOs has been under the microscope in Russia since "revolutions" in other former Soviet republics brought new authorities to power amid allegations of external funding and interference. A new law was passed at the end of last year placing certain restrictions on foreign organizations.

A Rossiya program called Special Correspondent broadcast on Sunday night said the Federal Security Service (FSB) had uncovered a group of British spies working at the embassy.

Doe, also a coordinator of the Foreign Office's Global Opportunity Fund and an adviser to some non-governmental organizations in Russia, had reportedly planted a transmitter disguised as a rock on a Moscow street to record classified computer data, which was later downloaded by British embassy officials.

The British Foreign Office said it was "concerned and surprised" by the allegations and denied that diplomats had been involved in espionage.

"We reject any allegations of improper conduct in our dealing with Russian NGOs," it said.

It said that some well-publicized payments had been made to human rights activist in a bid to help a "healthy" civil society develop.

During the program, FSB officers showed other financial documents signed by Doe.

On January 18, 2006, 5,719 pounds (about $9,700) were given to the Eurasia Foundation, an organization promoting free market and democratic institutions in the former Soviet republics, for opening independent newspapers. It was also signed by Doe in his capacity as an embassy official.

The FSB displayed an array of other financial documents indicating that the money had been given in cash, including for a project to open schools to train public inspectors in remote areas. "We can only guess at who these inspectors were and what they were going to see in northern Siberia and the Far East," an FSB officer said.

The program's chief reporter suggested Doe had discredited the idea of advancing democracy through his actions.

(The Moscow Times 23.i.06)

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