Russian Court Reverses Space Expert's Acquittal
By Susan B. Glasser
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 10, 2004; Page A09
MOSCOW, June 9 -- The Russian Supreme Court overturned Wednesday the acquittal of a Russian space scientist charged with spying, dealing a setback to human rights advocates who believed they had won a rare victory in an espionage case.
Valentin Danilov, a physics professor in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, was found not guilty by a jury last December after waiting nearly three years for trial on charges he turned over classified space technology to the Chinese.
The trial marked the first time a jury in Russia had been allowed to hear an espionage case, but prosecutors challenged the outcome on procedural grounds, alleging the defense had improperly pressured the jury. In its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court agreed and ordered a retrial.
Danilov is one of several scientists who turned to foreign companies for work after the collapse of the Soviet Union and found themselves accused of spying by the Federal Security Service, known by its Russian initials FSB. It is the domestic successor to the Soviet KGB.
In April, a jury found arms control researcher Igor Sutyagin guilty of espionage after the FSB accused him of selling sensitive military information to a British company allegedly fronting for U.S. intelligence.
In both cases, the accused scientists claimed they had relied on widely available, nonsecret material for their work. Human rights groups say researchers are being targeted by the FSB for having foreign contacts, a revival of KGB tactics.
"Of course, I'm very unhappy about it and consider it unfair and groundless," Danilov said in a telephone interview. "In this case, we can talk about the Supreme Court not being independent and fair."
He said it was "nonsense" that the defense team had pressured jurors and pointed out that the Supreme Court was only supposed to overturn jury verdicts in case of serious procedural violations, "but here there were no such serious violations." His attorney, Yelena Yevmenova, added, "This decision was expected, unfortunately."
Vladimir Vasiltsov, an attorney representing Sutyagin in the appeal of his 15-year jail sentence, said that "this decision with Danilov makes us even less optimistic, not that we had much optimism left before."
In televised remarks, Prosecutor Yevgeny Naidyonov praised the Supreme Court decision as "legitimate and justified."
Danilov was arrested in February 2001 and accused of agreeing to sell secret satellite technology to a Chinese state-run company in his capacity as head of a thermal physics center at Krasnoyarsk Technical University. His defense argued that the information Danilov provided to the Chinese firm had been published in scientific journals in Soviet times or declassified as far back as 1992.
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