US judge orders three accused Russian spies held

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A US judge yesterday ordered three suspects accused of being spies for Russia in the United States to be held pending trial.

Only one of the 10 suspects in US custody has been granted release pending trial. But Vicky Pelaez, a columnist for the New York Spanish-language daily El Diario, was placed under house arrest and court monitoring in New York.

In Virginia, US District Judge Theresa Buchanan issued the order after the three suspects agreed to waive their right to a hearing to consider release pending trial. The judge set a preliminary hearing on the charges for Wednesday.

Two of the suspects, known as Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, were living as a couple in a suburb of Washington. After being arrested, they revealed their real names as Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva and said they were from Russia, according to a letter prosecutors filed with the court.

A third suspect, Mikhail Semenko, also waived a detention hearing. Prosecutors said he was in the United States using his real name.

The three said little during the 10-minute hearing. Pereverzeva looked somewhat bewildered by the proceedings and at one point Kutzik cracked a brief smile.

Prosecutors argued the suspects were too much of a flight risk to be released on bail, pointing to the vast resources Russia could expend to help them flee and to the disappearance of an 11th suspect who is believed to have fled Cyprus after being released from custody on bail.

FBI agents, who tracked the spy ring for at least a decade, swooped in to arrest 10 of the 11 suspects on Sunday after realizing that one was about to flee the country.

Prosecutors said the accused spies spent years in the United States quietly collecting information and trying to meet Americans with political ties.

While Washington and Moscow have pledged that the case will not damage ties, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin this week accused US authorities of going "out of control" as they pursued the long-running case.

That said, Moscow has acknowledged the suspects are Russian citizens. Prosecutors stopped short of accusing them of espionage - seeking classified information - but charged them with being unregistered agents of a foreign government.

The United States and Russia have been working to repair strained ties, including trying to reach agreements on how to deal with Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs.

New York prosecutors said one of the detained suspects, who went by the name Juan Lazaro and was apparently married to Pelaez, admitted during questioning to using a false name and was a Russian native despite claiming to be Uruguayan.

They also said the case extended beyond the 11 suspects and there were "a lot of Russian government agents in this country who are actively participating in this conspiracy." Prosecutors said they plan to seek an indictment next week.