Kuznetsov Charged in Absentia

Lawyer Boris Kuznetsov, who was granted political asylum in the United States earlier this year, has been formally charged in absentia with divulging state secrets, his lawyer said Friday.

Kuznetsov, 64, fled the country in July, shortly after authorities began investigating him for purportedly disclosing state secrets by filing a complaint to the Constitutional Court that the Federal Security Service had illegally wiretapped the telephone of his client, former Senator Levon Chakhmakhchyan.

The Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee formally charged Kuznetsov on Thursday, said Viktor Parshutkin, one of Kuznetsov's lawyers.

It was unclear whether Russia would seek Kuznetsov's extradition, as it has with other high-profile suspects living abroad, such as businessman Boris Berezovsky and Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, both of whom have been granted political asylum in Britain.

A spokeswoman for the Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee said Friday that no one would be available to comment until Monday.

The crime Kuznetsov is accused of is punishable by up to four years in prison.

Kuznetsov has defended numerous high-profile clients against government charges and claims that the case against him is a politically motivated attack orchestrated by the Federal Security Service.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted Kuznetsov political asylum in February.

Kuznetsov insisted that the bugging of Chakhmakhchyan's phone was a violation of the former senator's human rights and therefore could not be considered a state secret.

"The charges against Kuznetsov are groundless," Parshutkin said. "According to Russian law, any document that testifies that someone's rights were violated cannot be a government secret."

Besides Chakhmakhchyan, who is charged with accepting a $300,000 bribe in a sting operation, Kuznetsov's clients have included Manana Aslamazian, head of the Educated Media Foundation, and Igor Sutyagin, a scientist sentenced by a jury to 15 years in prison for of high treason in 2004.