July 8, 2010

Russian spy (swap) case is about to be solved

Ten people whose U.S. arrests were announced by federal authorities a week ago and an 11th person, who was released on bail by a court in Cyprus and is a fugitive, were formally charged in a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday. The indictment charged all of them with conspiring to act as secret agents and charged nine of them with conspiracy to commit money laundering. It demanded that those accused of money laundering return any assets used in the offense. Attorney Robert Baum, who represents defendant Anna Chapman, said late Wednesday the case might be settled when she and the other nine people arrested in the United States appear for arraignment on the indictment, raising the possibility of guilty pleas to the lowest charges and deportation from the country.

"There's a good possibility that the case will be resolved at the initial court appearance tomorrow," he said Wednesday.

Chapman, a Manhattan resident branded a femme fatale in tabloid newspaper stories, and the other arrested defendants were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.

The indictment, a charging document that can be used at trial, contains far fewer details of the alleged crimes than were in two criminal complaints filed last week. Robert J. Krakow, an attorney for defendant Juan Lazaro, said Wednesday, "Of certain events tomorrow that might occur, the fact the indictment is minimal makes perfect sense. This is a crazy situation." Prosecutors released a copy of the indictment as federal judges in Boston and Alexandria (web | news) , Va., signed orders directing that five defendants arrested in Massachusetts and Virginia be transferred to New York. All were charged in Manhattan and had to be taken there eventually.

The legal developments came amid reports that American officials were meeting with the Russian ambassador in Washington, D.C., and a claim by the brother of a convicted spy in Russia that his brother has been told he will be swapped for Russians arrested in the United States.

Janice Oh, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, declined to comment on speculation about a spy swap.

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