By Margot Buff
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A Moscow court yesterday found a Russian nuclear-weapons expert guilty of espionage for the United States and Britain, ending another high-profile treason case against a prominent researcher. Igor Sutyagin, an arms expert from Moscow's respected USA-Canada Institute, could receive a jail term of up to 20 years when he is sentenced on 7 April.
Prague, 6 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Military researcher Igor Sutyagin has become the latest expert to be convicted of treason by a Russian court.
A 12-member jury at the Moscow City Court found Sutyagin guilty yesterday of "state treason in the form of espionage" -- a conviction that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Sutyagin, a scholar at Moscow's respected USA-Canada Institute, was originally arrested by agents of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in October 1999. He was charged with passing military secrets on Russian nuclear submarines and missile systems to British and American intelligence agents during visits to Europe.
Sutyagin vehemently denied the charges, saying he had indeed cooperated on certain projects with foreign fellow scholars but only shared already-published material from non-secret Russian sources.
Sutyagin waited for four years in pretrial detention for his day in court. Thanks to judicial reforms initiated by President Vladimir Putin, his lawyers won the right to have their client's fate decided by a jury, making yesterday's verdict all the more bitter in their eyes.
RFE/RL spoke to Anna Savitskaya, one of Sutyagin's defense lawyers, and asked her whether she regretted asking for a jury trial for her client. "No. I don't think it was a mistake, because whereas a jury trial provided some kind of hope, we could have predicted a definite guilty verdict had we opted for a trial by a judge, without a jury," Savitskaya said.
Savitskaya accused the presiding judge, Marina Komarova, of striving to ensure a guilty verdict by manipulating the questions the jury was asked to rule on.
"We believe that during the trial, the judge frequently manipulated the jury. In addition, the jury was asked to decide questions beyond the scope of the indictment, which did not figure in the roster of charges against Sutyagin. This in fact may be the reason for the [guilty] verdict," Savitskaya said.
Savitskaya elaborated by saying: "The main issue is what questions the jurors were asked to decide. Sutyagin was accused of passing documents containing state secrets to U.S. military intelligence agents. But the jury was only asked to answer whether Sutyagin had handed over any documents. [The issue is that] Sutyagin never denied handing over documents. He said that he indeed discussed certain issues with foreigners. But he can prove that the matters they discussed were not state secrets and that all the material he handed over came from open sources. But this information was not included in the judge's instructions to the jury."
In addition, Savitskaya said the judge ruled out most of the defense's evidence as inadmissible, giving a clear edge to the prosecution to make its case: "The judge frequently prevented the defense from submitting evidence. And evidence that did not support the prosecution was ruled inadmissible. But when the prosecution submitted similar types of evidence to back its side, that was allowed. The trial was marked by a constant inequality of the prosecution and defense."
Another lawyer on Sutyagin's defense team, Boris Kuznetsov, said the judge -- by narrowly framing the charges against the defendant and avoiding discussion of any aspects of the case which might have cleared Sutyagin, failed to clear up the most important questions.
"They did not establish who the people he spoke to were, whose citizens they were, if they were indeed intelligence agents -- from what agency? What intelligence service would pay money for information available in the press?" Kuznetsov asked.
Sutyagin's lawyers have vowed to appeal the case to Russia's Constitutional Court.
They and human rights organizations both inside and outside Russia compare the charges against Sutyagin to a raft of similar cases involving analysts and researchers accused by the FSB of treason.
Among the most famous are military reporter Grigorii Pasko, sentenced in 2001 to four years in jail for passing sensitive environmental-pollution information to the Japanese media; navy captain-turned-environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin, acquitted of treason by Russia's Supreme Court after a four-year battle to clear his name; former diplomat Valentin Moiseyev, who has filed a case before the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights following his release from prison after serving time for espionage; and scientist Valentin Danilov, who was found innocent of espionage and fraud charges by a jury in December.