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Russia: Court Sentences Alleged U.S. Spy To 20 Years In Jail

U.S. businessman Edmond Pope was found guilty of espionage yesterday by a court in Moscow and given the maximum sentence -- 20 years in prison. RFE/RL's Sophie Lambroschini reports on the verdict and trial, the first of a U.S. citizen on spy charges since the end of the Cold War.

Moscow, 7 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Following a seven-week trial, U.S. businessman Edmond Pope was found guilty today of espionage by a Moscow military court and sentenced to 20 years in prison, the most allowed under the law.

As an extra measure, the court said Pope's detention would be conducted under a so-called "harsh regime" whereby visits and correspondence would be limited.

The entire trial was held behind closed doors. But Pope's wife and a few journalists were allowed in for the reading of the conviction today.

State-owned television RTR reported Pope was calm as the conviction was read aloud, but that he was "shaking his head in apparent bewilderment."

Pope's lawyer, Pavel Astakhov, calls the judgement "unfair." The defense now has seven days to appeal the verdict before the Supreme Court. Astakhov says he will first speak with Pope before deciding on an appeal.

Astakhov says he is not surprised by the decision, but that he is shocked by the fact the court needed only two-and-a-half hours to reach a verdict:

"Two months of hearings, 15 volumes of documents, more than 10 witnesses, 200 appeals from the defense -- and that comes down to writing the 20-page conviction in two hours! Excuse me, but you really have to be naive to believe that the decision was not made beforehand."

Pope was arrested eight months ago and charged with obtaining secret blueprints of a new high-speed Russian underwater torpedo.

His lawyer argued the documents Pope sought to acquire were not confidential since they were available in specialized magazines, on the Internet, and in textbooks.

The prosecution argued the blueprints included secret information relevant to the workings of the torpedo's propulsion system.

Pope's lawyer had also asked for special treatment, since the 54-year-old former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer suffers from a rare form of bone cancer that is now in remission. But throughout the pre-trial proceedings, Pope was refused access to foreign doctors.

Astakhov said Russian officials had also denied Pope anti-cancer medications sent from the U.S., arguing that they were not registered in Russia.

U.S. congressman John Peterson, a Republican from Pope's home state of Pennsylvania, attended the final hearing. He tells RFE/RL the United States has many concerns about how the trial was conducted:

"The first concern we had was that no American was allowed to observe this trial, [and] that he could not have an independent interpreter so that he could adequately understand the charges against him. He was also not allowed to cross-examine those who were speaking against him."

The high-profile trial, the first in Russia of a U.S. national on spy charges since the end of the Cold War, has strained relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Reacting to the verdict in Washington, National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement that the United States was disappointed. He said there is no evidence to prove that Pope violated Russian law.

The spokesman said President Bill Clinton believes Pope should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has previously hinted at a positive outcome. Three month ago, he told U.S. television (CNN's "Larry King Live") that, after the trial, "in the spirit of the good relationship between our two countries, we will see what we can do."