Judge refuses to toss out US spying charges against banker

AP News
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Posted: Jul 29, 2015 7:58 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge refused on Wednesday to throw out a spy case against a Russian banker, rejecting arguments that the U.S government was overreaching by prosecuting a defendant who was openly working as an agent of a foreign government.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman ruled at the close of a hearing in federal court in Manhattan that the case against Evgeny Buryakov could go forward.

Buryakov, 40, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and other charges alleging he purposely failed to register as a foreign agent to conceal his true role as a covert operative embedded at a Manhattan branch of Vnesheconombank, or VEB. The defense had argued that laws exempted Buryakov from registering because he already was a visa-carrying official with a financial institution that is an arm of the Russian government.

"There was no hiding his position here as an agent for VEB," defense attorney Scott Hershman said at the hearing. "He wasn't shy about it."

The government told Berman that Buryakov had obtained a work visa to enter the United States as an employee of an independent bank by lying on visa applications by saying he wouldn't commit espionage, and argued that he had no official status that would give him immunity from prosecution.

"At no point did Mr. Buryakov identify himself as an official of the Russian Federation," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fee.

Prosecutors have said that from 2012 through January, Buryakov teamed up with low-level diplomats to gather sensitive economic intelligence on potential U.S. sanctions against Russian banks and on efforts in the United States to develop alternative energy resources.

Before his arrest in January, Buryakov lived in the Bronx with his Russian wife and two children. He's been jailed while awaiting trial.

The case was announced less than five years after the arrest of 10 covert agents — a sleeper cell referred to as "The Illegals" by the SVR, the foreign intelligence agency headquartered in Moscow — who led ordinary lives for several years in the United States using aliases. All 10 pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to conspiracy charges and were ordered out of the country as part of a spy swap for four people convicted of betraying Moscow to the West.