CORRECTED: 3 Russian spy suspects due in US court

2nd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Three of the 10 accused Russian spies held by the United States faced bail hearings Fridays, as revelations from glamorous suspect Anna Chapman's ex-husband told how she was dominated by her KGB father.

The bail hearing in Alexandria, northern Virginia for the three suspects Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills, and Mikhail Semenko was expected later Friday after being delayed at the request of defense lawyers who said they had new information.

Zottoli and Mills, a married couple, moved from the northwest city of Seattle to Arlington in late 2009 and, according to the US complaint, had over the years made contact with another of the accused spies in New York, picking up thousands of dollars in cash and a computer memory stick.

Semenko meanwhile was active on business-orientated social networking site LinkedIn, billing himself as a skilled linguist, with fluency in his native Russian, English, Spanish and Mandarin, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The court was however unlikely to grant the three even temporary freedom, with US authorities still sweating over the disappearance in the Russian spy saga of eleventh suspect Christopher Metsos, arrested in Cyprus, who vanished after posting a 26,500-euro (32,330-dollar) bond and surrendering his passport.

Bail has already been denied for Chapman, the flame-haired 28-year-old Russian bombshell also arrested in Sunday's swoop on alleged "deep cover" agents living in the United States, in a case that has recalled shadowy Cold War hostilities between the superpowers.

The suspect's British ex-husband, Alex Chapman, told Britain's Daily Telegraph that the spying allegations did not surprise him, saying he met his wife-to-be -- then Anna Kushchenko -- in London in 2001, marrying five months later in Moscow.

Alex Chapman, 30, said when their marriage broke down in 2005 he feared she was being "conditioned" to become a spy, after he experienced the power her father held over her.

"Anna told me her father had been high up in the ranks of the KGB. She said he had been an agent in 'old Russia,'" the trainee psychiatrist told the daily.

"Her father controlled everything in her life, and I felt she would have done anything for her dad."

Another suspect in the saga, who operated under the false identity of Juan Lazaro, cracked after his arrest to confess he was a Russian agent, saying he had more loyalty to the Kremlin than to his own son, prosecutors said Thursday.

The suspect also said his Peruvian-born journalist wife, Vicky Pelaez, made several trips to South America to give intelligence to their Russian spymasters.

The couple were among the accused agents charged with trying to infiltrate US policymaking circles in a case that has threatened to upset efforts to "reset" ties between Washington and Moscow.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined Friday on a visit to Ukraine to comment on the spy scandal, saying only Washington is "committed to building a new and positive relation with Russia.

"We're looking toward the future," she insisted.

Nine of the suspects already faced bail hearings on Thursday, though proceedings were adjourned like they were in Virginia for suburban Boston couple Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, who were being held in jail until a new hearing set for July 16.

Lazaro's confession, outlined by US Attorney Preet Bharara in a letter to Judge Ronald Ellis, implored the court not to repeat the mistake in Cyprus that freed the key conspirator on bail.

In custody, Lazaro confessed he was not Uruguayan and "Juan Lazaro" was not his real name, though he never revealed his true identity.

He also told investigators that "although he loved his son, he would not violate his loyalty to the 'Service' even for his son," according to the letter.

The "Service" is short for Russia's foreign intelligence service SVR, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

Judge Ellis delayed his decision on Lazaro, but said his wife Pelaez could be released under house arrest on a 250,000-dollar bond, noting that "she does not appear to be a trained agent" and that she has a "real identity" and is a US citizen.

Ellis meanwhile denied bail to Richard and Cynthia Murphy, accused of secretly garnering high-level contacts since the mid-1990s while posing as a suburban New Jersey couple.

Bharara's letter also revealed that the FBI has decrypted some 90 messages and that a raid on a safe-deposit box yielded "eight unmarked envelopes," each containing 10,000 dollars.

The nine suspects face up to 25 years prison for money laundering as well as another five years for conspiring to work for a foreign government. Chapman faces lesser conspiracy charges.

None were charged with the more serious offense of espionage.

© 2010 AFP

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