By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 21, 2008
MOSCOW, March 20 -- Two brothers who hold dual U.S.-Russian citizenship have been charged with industrial espionage after they allegedly attempted to obtain classified information for foreign energy companies, the domestic successor of the KGB said Thursday.
Ilya Zaslavsky, who worked for a Russian venture of the British oil giant BP, and his brother Alexander were arrested March 12, according to the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB.
The two were detained as they met with a Russian employee of a major Russian energy company in an alleged effort to procure secret material, the FSB told the Russian news media.
The service described Alexander Zaslavsky as an employee of the British Council, a culture and arts organization that is financed by the British government, but the organization said he is not and is simply a member of a British Council alumni club for graduates of British universities.
The Russian government recently forced the council to close its regional offices, saying it was operating illegally. Leading politicians, including President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, have accused the organization of being a front for spies.
The FSB said the brothers were formally charged Tuesday but remained free on a signed pledge not to leave Moscow.
On Wednesday, Russian investigators searched the offices of TNK-BP, a joint venture between BP and three Russian billionaires.
The FSB said investigators found "material evidence" of espionage during the search, including "copies of documents issued by Russian state and executive agencies, reports, analytical materials concerning mineral development, which, according to the preliminary information, comprised commercial secrets."
TNK-BP rejected any suggestion it was involved in espionage. "The company has never countenanced or supported any action designed to contradict or damage the interests of Russia," a company statement said.
The FSB also said it found business cards from employees of "foreign defense departments and the Central Intelligence Agency," according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
A spokesman for the FSB declined to discuss the case; it was unclear whether the FSB meant that the business card was from someone it merely suspected was a CIA operative or whether it was saying that CIA employees were handing out business cards identifying themselves as such.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy declined to comment on the arrests, saying that the mission, as a matter of policy, does not discuss consular affairs of a legal nature.
The probe has led to speculation here that it may be linked to an effort to force TNK-BP's Russian partners to sell their stake to Gazprom, the state-controlled energy company. The company was forced to agree to sell its share in a major gas field to Gazprom last June, but completion of the deal has stalled several times over the final price.