US-Russia spy swap underway
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Ten Russian secret agents were deported from the United States Thursday in exchange for four Westerners held by Moscow. The spy suspects in US custody pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to acting as illegal agents for Moscow and were ordered immediately expelled from the United States.
The agents were sentenced to time served and put on a plane to Moscow late Thursday hours after their New York court appearance.
In exchange, Russia agreed to release four people convicted of spying for Western countries and imprisoned.
The Russian agents were arrested on 27 June, and charged with acting unlawfully for a foreign government, but avoided a charge of espionage.
"No significant national security benefit would be gained from the prolonged incarceration in the United States of these ten unlawful agents," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
Several of them admitted using fake names. The defendants living as Richard and Cynthia Murphy were really Vladimir and Lydia Guryev, while Donald Heathfield's
name was revealed to be Andrey Bezrukov.
Vicky Pelaez, a columnist with New York's Spanish-language El Diario newspaper, was the only one not to admit being Russian. She did admit to having brought a letter with invisible ink to her contact.
The plea agreement also states that if any of the suspects want to profit in the future by selling details of their case, the proceeds would go to the US government.
US officials said the four Westerners were forced to confess to charges in Russia as part of the deal.
"I leave it to the individuals involved to tell their stories, including their years of imprisonment. But in order to get out of jail, they had no choice but to sign the Russian government oath," the US official said.
President Dmitry Medvedev pardoned four Russians late Thursday, including arms control expert Igor Sutyagin.
A lawyer for Sutyagin, who was sent to Arkhangelsk after being convicted in 2004, said her client may already have been released and taken to Vienna.
Sergei Skripal, a former colonel with Russian military intelligence sentenced in 2006 to 13 years jail on charges of spying for Britain, was also pardoned.
The remaining two were Alexander Zaporozhsky, a former employee of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service who was jailed for 18 years for espionage in 2003, and a fourth called Gennadi Vasilenko.
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