MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has charged a detained US citizen with espionage, state news agencies reported, adding pressure to the administration of US President Joe Biden, which has been trying to find a way to bring several detained citizens home from Russia. to fetch.
Russian news agencies RIA and TASS said the court in Moscow’s Lefortovo had remanded Gene Spector on suspicion of espionage, which carries a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
“The court granted the inquiry’s request to detain a US citizen Spector under Article 276 (espionage) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation,” TASS quoted an unidentified source at the court as saying.
The news agencies did not report details of the new charges, but said the court hearing was held behind closed doors because the case materials were classified.
Spector is already serving a 3.5-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to his role in bribing an aide to ex-Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, the news agencies said.
Spector was born in what is now St. Petersburg and then moved to the United States. Prior to his 2021 arrest, he served as chairman of the board of Medpolymerprom Group, a company specializing in cancer-curing drugs, TASS said.
White House spokesman John Kirby told CNN that the administration is still gathering information on the case and has no comment yet. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The United States has spoken with Russia about ways to bring back several US citizens detained in Moscow, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former US Marine Paul Whelan.
The Kremlin has confirmed it has held some talks with Washington, but has repeatedly said swaps can only be considered after trials and has warned that attempts by the US to speak publicly about the talks will undermine efforts.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said on Wednesday that Moscow and Washington have an effective channel for exchanging prisoners.
The Journal’s Gershkovich, a US citizen, was arrested in March on espionage charges that he, the Journal and Washington deny. Russia says he was caught in the act.
Whelan, a former US Marine, is serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony after being convicted of espionage charges that Washington says are also a sham. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Whelan by phone this month.
Last December, American basketball star Brittney Griner was released in a prisoner exchange after being sentenced to nine years in prison for possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil – which is illegal in Russia – following a legal process that Washington called a sham.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, the United States has repeatedly told its citizens to leave Russia due to the risk of arbitrary arrest or harassment by Russian law enforcement agencies.
In June, Michael Travis Leake, an American musician and former parachutist, was brought to court locked in a metal cage. He was arrested on charges of drug trafficking. Reuters could not reach him for comment.
Brazil this year refused a US request to extradite Sergey Cherkasov, who Western intelligence agencies believe is a Russian spy who attempted to use a false identity to infiltrate the International Criminal Court (ICC).
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov, Kanishka Singh and Lidia Kelly; editing by Chris Reese, Daniel Wallis, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)