MOSCOW, Feb. 21 -- A Russian scientist has been charged with divulging state secrets to a South Korean manufacturer of car wheels, an action that human rights groups say they fear is part of a campaign by the security services to intimidate researchers from former Soviet facilities who now work with foreigners.
Oscar A. Kaibyshev, 66, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for Metals Superplasticity Problems in the city of Ufa, was charged with illegally exporting dual-use technology and research and divulging classified material to ASA Co., a subsidiary of a Korean firm, Hankook Tire Manufacturing Co. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison. Dual-use technology can include military as well as civilian applications.
In a phone interview from Ufa, about 750 miles east of Moscow, Kaibyshev said his research involved processes that would make metals more flexible while preserving their strength and that such technologies were used in the automobile manufacturing and aviation industries.
"This is not secret work," said Kaibyshev, who founded the institute in 1985 and was suspended from his post on Jan. 18 after being charged three days earlier. "All this technology and the scientific basis of this technology was published in the literature. We worked openly. All our contracts were official."
The International Science and Technology Center in Moscow, which was designed to help former Soviet military scientists convert their work to civilian use, has also funded a book co-written by Kaibyshev that will be published in the United States next month. In addition to Russia, the program is funded by the United States, the European Union, Norway and Japan.
The exact foundation of the charges against Kaibyshev remains secret, according to the scientist's attorney, Yuri Gevis. He said the FSB, the domestic successor to the Soviet KGB secret police service, began investigating Kaibyshev in 2003.
Kaibyshev said he believed the case was actually an attempt to control the revenue that could potentially flow to his institute from its cooperation with the South Korean firm and other businesses as the institute seeks patents for some of its techniques. Kaibyshev said he also worked with General Electric Co.
The FSB declined to comment on the case.
In recent years, the FSB has pursued a number of cases against scientists, environmentalists and journalists, an endeavor labeled "spy mania" by the New York-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch. Last year, the physicist Valentin Danilov was sentenced to 14 years in prison for passing what were alleged to be state secrets about satellite technology to China. Igor Sutyagin, a scholar at the Institute for the Study of the United States and Canada in Moscow, received a 15-year sentence for selling information to a British company that prosecutors said was a front for the CIA. Both men said they worked only from open sources.
"We haven't studied it yet, but it does look like it's going to be another spy case," said Alexander Petrov in the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, which has issued a report on the prosecution of scholars.
A group of scholars from the Russian Academy of Sciences reviewed Kaibyshev's work last year and found that it was not subject to mandatory export controls over dual-use technology, according to Kaibyshev and his attorney. But Gevis said that scholars from a closed government institute provided the court with another expert opinion, which held that Kaibyshev's work was classified and should not have been released.
A court in Ufa has ordered Kaibyshev to remain in the city until the case is decided unless he gets permission from the FSB to leave. Kaibyshev said he had been planning to attend a conference in San Francisco this month.
An Arlington firm, Futurepast, is about to publish his new book, the third in a series underwritten by the International Science and Technology Center.
"I'm very concerned," said John C. Shideler, president of Futurepast. "Everyone who knows him in the metallurgy field has nothing but the highest regard for him and his work."