US, Russia Complete Massive Spy Swap

New York/Washington/Moscow, Jul 9 (DPA): The US and Russia have completed arrangements for one of the largest spy swaps in history as 10 Russian spy suspects and four prisoners in Russian custody pleaded guilty to charges against them.

In New York, the 10 Russian spies, who included a Peruvian-born US citizen, pleaded guilty in federal court to lesser charges of acting as illegal agents of a foreign government, US justice officials confirmed Thursday. They were to be deported quickly.

In Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev early Friday pardoned four spies accused of giving top secret information to the West, Russian news agencies reported. The four men pleaded guilty in letters that asked Medvedev to pardon them.

Russian and US officials indicated that the deal, sealed in less than two weeks, was driven by increasingly close relations and a sense that too much was at stake to let the US arrests throw them off course.

In announcing the pardons, Moscow noted "the new spirit of Russian-American relations and the high level of mutual understanding of the presidents of both countries."

Senior US administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted there was "a lot on the agenda with Russia." Russia's immediate acknowledgement of the spies as working for Russia after their June 27 arrest "says something about the progress we have made in our relationship" with Russia, they said.

The convictions of the Russian suspects in a federal courthouse in New York and the pending deportations will bring an end to one of the most famous US-Russia spy cases in history, and marks the largest spy swap since the 1980s - the days of the Cold War.

"This was an extraordinary case ... and the agreement we reached today provides a successful resolution for the US and its interests," US Attorney General Eric Holder said.

The US and Russian governments had sought to keep the deal under tight wraps, refusing to discuss the swap until the convictions in New York. Analysts noted that a major motivation was to keep relations on the upswing after years of tension and suspicion.

"We have present day business that we are trying to conduct with the Russian Federation on a variety of fronts, and this episode (was) not helpful to those endeavours," said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence and espionage expert at the Federation of American Scientists, a think tank in Washington.

Under the agreement, the 10 Russian spies are permanently barred from ever returning to the US unless with approval from the US Attorney General, US officials said.

The group included four married couples who had at least six children among them during the decade or more they were under observation by the FBI. But US officials said their fate was a matter for the parents to decide. Some of the children have reportedly

already been sent on to Russia after the parents were arrested.

The four couples also owned homes in wealthy Boston, Washington and New York suburbs. Under the plea agreement, they will forfeit all "currency, bank accounts, houses and other property," the US officials told reporters.

The FBI arrested the 10 suspects just days after a White House meeting between US President Barack Obama and Medvedev, who shared a meal at a local hamburger restaurant. Some had faced added charges of money laundering, which were dropped in the plea agreements.

None of the suspects are believed to have infiltrated in the government or obtained classified information. They were reportedly tasked with getting to know people and gain information about the US power structure, including on Wall Street.

The FBI had been investigating some of the spies for more than a decade. The fate of an 11th Russian suspect, Robert Christopher Metsos, was not clear after he was released on bail in Cyprus.



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