'We are seriously worried': Russian arms researcher's family

10th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The family of an arms expert released in the Russian-US spy swap and believed to be in Britain said on Saturday they were sick with worry as they had not heard from him.

Convicted of spying for the United States, Igor Sutyagin, is believed to have been among the four convicted Russians who were exchanged for 10 Kremlin agents in Vienna on Friday.

The plane reportedly made a brief stop at the Brize Norton air base in central England before landing in the United States later Friday and it was not known how many of the four were still on board the plane when it arrived at Dulles international airport.

According to British media reports, Sutyagin and Sergei Skripal, a former colonel with Russian military intelligence GRU convicted of spying for Britain, were dropped off in the UK.

The family and lawyer for Sutyagin expressed concern that he had not yet made contact with them.

"If he is a free man it is unclear why this is happening," Sutyagin's brother Dmitry told AFP. "We are starting to seriously worry."

"We have no contact with him," Sutyagin's wife, Irina Manannikova, said in a shaky voice from their home town of Obninsk just outside Moscow.

The family said they were monitoring media reports closely and admitted that he was now probably at the hands of special services but expressed bewilderment at why he was not allowed to call home.

"We do not understand why this work cannot be combined with a short phone call," Dmitry Sutyagin said.

The researcher's lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, also said she had yet to hear from her client, which led her to doubt whether he was genuinely free.

"The main thing is that you do not know whom to turn to and how to save him," she said by phone.

Sutyagin was convicted of handing over classified information to a British company that Russia claimed was a CIA cover, and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

Earlier this week he was unexpectedly plucked out of his prison in the Russian Far North, transferred to a high-security jail in Moscow and granted a meeting with his family, before being put onto a plane to take him out of the country.

Since his detention in 1999, he had denied he was a spy but had essentially been forced to sign a document admitting his guilt to be released as part of the swap.

© 2010 AFP

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