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'Traitor' indicted in Chapman spy case

Wednesday 04 May 2011 00:00 BST

The former Russian intelligence officer accused of helping US authorities arrest 10 sleeper agents last summer has been charged in Moscow with high treason and desertion.

The indictment for Alexander Poteyev has been passed to Moscow's main military court and he will be tried in his absence. Russian media say Mr Poteyev, who controlled US-based spy operations from Moscow, fled to the US before Anna Chapman and the others were arrested.

The spies were deported in exchange for four Russians who had allegedly spied for the West. It was the biggest spy swap between the two countries since the Cold War.

High treason carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, while desertion is seven years.

In November, a Russian newspaper suggested that a hit squad was planning to kill Mr Poteyev.

The Russian agents received a hero's welcome when they returned home in July, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin led them in a patriotic singalong. President Dmitry Medvedev bestowed them with the nation's highest awards in October.

Ms Chapman, who became a celebrity in Russia, visited the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch of a Russian spaceship.

Mr Putin, a KGB veteran who led the Russian spy agency before ascending to the presidency in 2000, said recently that the agents had caused no damage to the US.

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