CHICAGO – An Iraqi-born man accused of being a "sleeper agent" sent to this country by Saddam Hussein's (search) intelligence service was ordered released Thursday on $250,000 bond and placed on house arrest pending trial.
Sami Latchin (search), 57, was released after relatives posted the equity in their homes totaling $90,000 to secure his bond.
"Do you understand that if you flee this jurisdiction, these innocent people will lose their property?" U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer asked Latchin.
"Yes," Latchin said through an Arabic interpreter. He promised he would not flee.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Conway had opposed allowing Latchin to be freed on bond, saying there was too much risk that he might flee to avoid trial.
Federal prosecutors say that Latchin was a "sleeper agent" sent by the Iraqi intelligence service to lie low for several years before starting work as a spy.
They say he previously worked for the intelligence service in Greece. But Latchin denies that he was any kind of intelligence operative.
He is not charged with espionage — stealing classified defense secrets — but with making false statements to immigration authorities on his 1998 U.S. citizenship application.
Federal law calls for a maximum 10-year sentence on the charge. But Pallmeyer has indicated that the sentence might be much less if Latchin is convicted.
Prosecutors said he lied on the citizenship application by failing to mention his membership in Saddam's Baath Party (search) and his service in the Iraqi Intelligence Service (search) and by saying three overseas trips were vacations when in fact he met with his intelligence handler.
The judge scheduled trial for Jan. 24. Under terms of his release, Latchin may leave his home only to come to court, visit his attorney, receive medical treatment and attend religious services.