Husband and Wife Convicted Of Offering Secrets to China

A husband-and-wife team has been convicted of trying to sell state secrets to Chinese military intelligence officers, the Federal Security Service said Tuesday.

In an odd twist, China probably already possessed the information that the couple was trying to sell.

The Moscow City Court convicted Yury Alekseyev, 55, and his wife, Irina Starikova, 49, of espionage Monday, sentencing Alekseyev to 12 years and his wife to nine years in prison. The couple was also fined 1 million rubles ($37,800).

The pair was caught trying to sell "secret documents of a military technical character" about the Admiral Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier for $300,000, the FSB said, Interfax reported.

The FSB said it caught the duo red-handed with the information on March 29 last year. It was unclear where the couple worked and how they obtained the information.

China currently has no operational aircraft carriers. Russia only has the Admiral Kuznetsov.

However, in the late 1990s, the Chinese bought the only other Kuznetsov class carrier to be produced, the Varyag.

A former commander in the Chinese navy wrote in Jane's Defence Weekly in 2005 that China had purchased blueprints for the carrier, a fact Jane's later confirmed from Russian sources. The general also wrote that "the defense industry employed Russian aircraft carrier designers to come to China and give lectures."

Jane's said in 2005 that Chinese workers at the Dalian Shipyard, in the Yellow Sea, were repairing the "badly damaged" carrier and had repainted it with military markings.

Jane's photos and Google Earth show the ship still in the port.

In October 2006, Kommersant reported that Russia planned to sell China up to 50 Su-33 fighters, the type designed for Russian aircraft carriers, for $2.5 billion.