MOSCOW – The former Russian intelligence officer who helped U.S. authorities arrest the Russian spy ring last summer has been charged in his homeland with high treason and desertion, reports said Tuesday.
The indictment for Alexander Poteyev, the man accused of tipping off American authorities about Anna Chapman and her fellow deep cover agents, has been passed to Moscow's main military court, Russian news agencies quoted a Federal Security Service statement as saying.
Poteyev, who controlled U.S.-based spy operations from Moscow, fled to America just before Washington announced it had uncovered the 10 spies last summer, Russian media said. They were deported in exchange for four suspected agents who had been incarcerated in Russia. It was the biggest spy swap between the two countries since the Cold War.
Russia's Federal Security Service refused to confirm Poteyev's charges to The Associated Press. But Lyudmila Klimenko, a spokeswoman at the Moscow District Military Court, which specializes in closed-door trials, confirmed the existence of the charges and that indictment had been received. High treason carries a maximum of 20 years' prison under Russian law, while desertion is seven years.
Leading business newspaper Kommersant first reported on Poteyev in November, but referred to him under a different name, Col. Shcherbakov. It cited an unidentified Kremlin official as suggesting Shcherbakov might be assassinated in the near future, but Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in December that Russia has long abandoned the Soviet practice of killing turncoats.
The Russian spies received a hero's welcome when they returned home in July, and Putin led them in a patriotic singalong. President Dmitry Medvedev bestowed them with the nation's highest awards in October.
Anna Chapman, the pinup girl for the agents, later visited the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch of a Russian spaceship, fueling her celebrity in Russia and abroad. She also became the new celebrity face of a Moscow bank and rumors are swirling she may be pursuing a career in politics.
Putin, a KGB veteran who led the Russian spy agency before ascending to the presidency in 2000, insisted in a recent CNN interview that the agents had caused no damage to the United States.