American businessman Francis J. Crawford yesterday was convicted, as expected, of black market money dealings by a Moscow city court. He received a suspended, five-year labor camp sentence that allows him to leave the Soviet Union and end a three-month episode of apparent Kremlin retaliation that has exacerbated Soviet-American relations.
The 37-year-old products manager for International Harvester's Moscow office emerged smiling from court after the one-hour reading of the verdict. He said he was dissatisfied with the guilty verdict because he had proved his innocence "without the shadow of a doubt" during the two-day trial.
Crawford's Soviet defense laywer, Leonid Popov, who mounted a vigorous attack on the prosecution, agreed that "the proof was not sufficient to convict.
"There were no disinterested witnesses. Their testimony was unreliable," Popov said. "In accordance with Soviet law, it is not possible to condemn an accused man only on the basis of those accused with him.
Popov declined to comment on whether he felt the case had been politically motivated. "That's out of my area of competence," he said, striding off.
The U.S. embassy later issued a statement saying: "Mr. Crawford has consistently proclaimed his innocence of any wrong-doing and the court proceedings support his position."
[In Washington, the State Department called the guilty verdict "improper and unwarranted." A spokesman for International Harvester in Chicago said Crawford had been subjected to a "show trial" based on "weak and inconclusive" evidence."]
Crawford pointed out that the verdict against him had been predicted last month by American industrialist Armand Hammer after a conversation with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. "Of course, Dr. Hammer had already been given the sentence before we had the trial," Crawford observed. "So what can you say? That's like getting the cart before the horse."
Hugging his fiancee, U.S. Embassy secretary Virginia Olbrish, Crawford talked for a few minutes with reporters jammed the dingy corridor of the yellow-painted brick courthouse in central Moscow, then went to apply for an exit visa.
He was told late in the day by Soviet officials that it may take up to five more working days to process his application, the usual time. "You've been in our country for two years and you know you must obey the laws - five working days," Crawford said he was told.
In his 40-minute final statement yesterday, the trial judge, Lev Mironov, brushed aside the arguments and questions that Crawford and his defense attorney had thrown at the prosecution, and declared: "There is full confirmation" of Crawford's guilt.
He said the prosecution evidence showed the businessman bought only 1,600 rubles in legal exchange of dollars during the 1977-78, although his own and Harvester's Moscow expenses totaled about 16,000 rubles. The implication was that the difference must have been made up from illegal, untraceable tranactions.
Judge Mironov, however, accepted prosecutor Mikhail Ilyukhin's recommendation that Crawford be spared the full eight-year sentence for his alleged offense of massive currency speculation. Ilyukhin said the court should take into account that Crawford was a first offender and an American whose work had helped improve Soviet-American relations.
Crawford's arrest June 12 had been interpreted as a Soviet move to gain leverage for a possible exhcange of Crawford for two Soviet employes of the United Nations, Rudolf Chernyayev and Valdik Enger, who have been charged with trying to obtain U.S. naval secrets.
The scheduled trial of the two Soviets in New Jersey was a departure from a longstanding unwritten agreement between Washington and Moscow that accused spies would be quietly expelled instead of brought to trial.
The Crawford verdict is seen as accomplishing goals that have nothing to do with the question of Soviet jurisprudence. By finding him guilty, the Soviets save face; by suspending his sentence, they insure he will leave the country and thus elimate a major irritant to East-West relations.
Others here believe that the Crawford verdict may now clear the way for prisoner exchanges that could center on Chernyayev and Enger in the United States and several Soviet dissidents or alleged American spies incarcerated here such as Anatoli Filatov.
Filatov was tried as a U.S. spy in July and sentenced to death. His wife, who surfaced here last week to speak with Western correspondents, said the sentence has not yet been carried out and appealed to President Carter for help in saving his life.
[State Department spokeman Hodding Carter III said late yesterday, however, that "the release of Crawford is not part of a bigger deal. It is not connected with any kind of swap, or anything of the sort."]
Apart from rumors of exchanges, the close of the Crawford case comes at a time when moves are being made to achieve a new U.S.-Soviet strategic arms limitation agreement. Some hours before the verdict was announced, U.S. negotiator Paul Warnke began talks here with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, who is scheduled to vist the United States later this month.
The tensions of East-West politics spilled into the human drama of yesterday's court session when Crawford and the three Russian co-defendants, Alla Solovyova and Vladimir and Lyudmila Kiselyov, arrived to hear their fates. The three Russians already had pleaded guilty and the Kiselyovs had testified against Crawford.
The corridor outside was jammed with Western journalists and televisions crews. Inside, a Soviet camera crew set up to film the verdicts and sentencing. "They didn't come to record an acquittal," one American said.
Crawford, was accompanied by Harvester's assistant general counsel, Robert Booth, and special counsel Peter Maggs, a college professor and expert on Soviet law. Also with him were Miss Olbrish and three U.S. Embassy officials. Seven Western journalists were allowed inside.
Near them sat weeping relatives of the two women defendants, moaning and crying as the judge began reading and the entire court stood.
Kiselyov, 40, a factory checker who had a previous black market conviction, was sentenced to five years in a labor camp and confiscation of his personal property. He was Crawford's principal accuser, alleging that the Alabaman had exchanged $8,300 for 20,000 rubles and bought six antique samovars.
Lyudmila Kiselyov, 26, a seamstress to whom Crawford acknowledged taking numerous articles of clothing to be mended, was given a five-year suspended sentence like Crawford. She and Crawford were give three-year probationary periods during which they could be sent immediately to prison for a second offense.
Miss Solovyovy, 24, a cashier at a foreign currency store who had sold hard currency to Kiselyov giving him $100 and getting a $3 commission, was given four-year labor camp sentence.
These were the sentences recommended by the prosecutor.
Although criticizing the verdict, Crawford said after the court session that he felt "the Soviet trial procedures themselves were fair. The defendant as well as the lawyer had a chance to cross-examine the witnesses."