American businessman Francis Jay Crawford was released from the KGB's Lefortovo Prison last night and taken by police to Moscow's Intourist Hotel where he had a tearful, emotional reunion with his fiance, Virginia Olbrish.
Crawford and Olbrish, 32, cried and kissed in the doorway of the hotel room he has rented for his two years duty here.
The 38-year old Moscow representative of International Harvester was released as Soviet authorities, after a day of confusing delays, kept their end of a bargain with the United States, which has freed two alleged Soviet spies from jail in America.
Crawford was arrested June 12 when Soviet police stopped his car and dragged him away.
After he was returned to the hotel last night, Crawford and Olbrish, a secretary at the U.S. Embassy, went back downstairs to retrieve his personal belongings from the rear of the shiny black Chaika limousine in which he had ridden away from 15 days in the prison run by the Soviet secret police.
As reporters and gray-haired, tightlipped Harvester executives milled around him, Crawford, said little about his stay in prison beyond the fact that he was obviously "glad" to be out. His round face worked with emotion as he gripped his fiance, and he said he would have "a statement" tomorrow.
Soviet authorities have alleged that Crawford, who is product manager for the International Harvester sales and service office here, "systematically sold large amounts of foreign currency at speculative prices to Soviet citizens." Crawford reportedly has denied the allegations.Tass, the Soviet news agency, has said that three Soviets have been implicated as accomplices. It did not name them.
Seasoned Western diplomatic sources here have viewed his arrest and detention as little more than a Soviet maneuver to set up a swap for the two Soviet employes of the United Nations who have been accused of trying to pass U.S. Navy secrets to Moscow.
The two men, Rudolf Chernayev and Vladimir Enger, were arrested and held in jail awaiting trial in New Jersey. The arrest and public disclosures of the charges against them by the U.S. government broke with recent practice between the two governments. Previously persons suspected of espionage usually have been quietly expelled, so as to keep the atmosphere of relations between the two capitals from becoming inflamed by practices each covertly recognizes the other engages in.
The Carter administration decision to go ahead with a full public prosecution of the two Soviets came at a time when relations between the two capitals have been deteriorating over such crucial issues as the strategic arms limitation talks, and Soviet military intervention in Africa.
Under the terms of the agreement, Crawford is considered to be technically in the personal custody of U.S. Ambassador malcolm Toon. He is to be on call for Soviet authorities who are investigating the allegations against him. The two accused spies are similarly technically in the custody of Soviet Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin in Washington, available for legal proceeding in their case.
Crawford's release had a lifting effect on the atmosphere among the U.S. businessmen, journalists and diplomats living here who have watched with dismay as the deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow have meant new harassments of Americans by the Soviet government. But the sense of relief was minimized by the latest Kremlin move against Americans.
Earlier yesterday, the Soviets notified two American reporters here that they are to appear today in a Moscow city court as defendants in what apparently is a complaint of slander lodged against them by the state television radio combine. The reporters are Craig Whitney of The New York Times and Harold Piper of the Baltimore Sun.
Reports of Crawford's impending release reached here from Washington about midnight Monday, but attempts to find out if he had already been freed were fruitless. This morning, it turned out that the chief U.S. consular officer, Clifford Gross, had to go through a series of formalities before Crawford could be released. He went to the Foreign Ministry and obtained special documents giving permission for Crawford to be freed, an unusual act under Soviet criminal law. Defendants here are frequently held incommunicado for months at a time before their trial.
Gross then went to the Moscow prosecutor's office, for what U.S. Embassy officials had understood would be a quick meeting prior to obtaining final permission to set the Alabamian free.
But Soviet lawyers balked and Gross finally made it to Lefortovo in late afternoon, only to be told after talking with officials there that the KGB intended to return Crawford personally to his room at the Intourist.
He finally appeared there about 6 p.m., dressed in a red flannel shirt, jeans and his ever-present cowboy boots - this pair black - barely keeping his composure.