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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

American Expelled on Spy Charges

Russia has expelled an American businessman from Russia on espionage charges, the country's security agency said Sunday, setting the stage for the country's second major espionage flap in less than a week.


Richard Dann Oppfelt, president of Seattle Medical Export, Inc., returned to his home in Seattle on Friday morning after being detained since the end of April in the city of Petropavlovsk, on the Kamchatka peninsula in the Far East.


Sergei Gorlenko, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, told The Associated Press that Oppfelt had been expelled because he was a threat to state security.


"He was engaged in actions that damage the interests of state security, or espionage, as we call it in Russian," Gorlenko said.


A family member contacted in Seattle said that Oppfelt was shocked by his expulsion.


"Dann has never been involved in anything like that," the family member said. "He was in the Navy a long time ago, but since then has had nothing to do with the government."


The family member added that Oppfelt had made "countless" trips to Russia and that he had a prosperous export business, dealing not only in medical supplies but in other types of consumer goods.


Oppfelt was not at home In London, the Mail on Sunday reported that the diplomats in question had been trying to trace the flow of stolen radioactive material out of Russia to the Irish Republican Army.


Both British and Russian government officials were quick to deny the report.


"Rubbish," said a spokesman for the British Foreign Office, when asked about the story which ran in this week's Mail on Sunday.


"Rubbish," concurred Yury Kobaladze, an FSB major general in the Russian State Security Service, who himself was once expelled from Britain for espionage. "Total rubbish."


Last Monday, the FSB announced that it had arrested a Russian national for passing state secrets to the British. On the following day, they said that information obtained in interrogations of the suspect had led them onto the trail of nine British diplomats, whom they planned to expel from the country.


In the Mail story, an unidentified FSB colonel was quoted as saying that the Russian national "confirmed that the IRA had been supplied with arms and offered stolen material."


The report quoted the colonel as saying that IRA operatives had visited Russia earlier this year to purchase arms from dealers connected with the mafia. In the course of these discussions, the report said, the IRA representatives learned that it might be possible to obtain radioactive material from plants in St. Petersburg and Siberia.


"The IRA team paid a huge deposit for the arms and the nuclear material with the arrangement that the mafia took the responsibility of getting it out of Russia," the source told the paper.


The FSB told Itar-Tass last Monday that it believed arms had been smuggled out of Russia to the IRA through Estonia, with the help of an Estonian paramilitary organization called Kaitseliit. The Estonian government, however, denies the allegation.


"I think the 'Estonian card' is being produced to defuse somewhat the conflict with Great Britain over the expulsion of diplomats," said Mart Helme, the Estonian ambassador to Russia. "It could also be that the FSB made such a mess in Pervomaiskoye and they're trying to show their worth."


Helme added that his government had received no information from the Russian government about the alleged arms sales.


The Mail report said the nine British diplomats marked for expulsion had been trying to bribe Kremlin officials to find out just how much, if any, radioactive material had been smuggled out of Russia to the IRA.


Analysts say the smuggling out of Russia's nuclear stockpiles is the No. 1 security concern for Western intelligence services operating in Russia.


"If there is one thing that the West is worried about in Russia, it's the disappearance of nuclear material," said Edward Luttwak, an analyst specializing in international espionage at the American Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The reason spies would be operating is that they simply don't trust in Russia's ability to police itself in these matters."


Kobaladze, however, said that the charges faced by the Russian national would not "coincide" with questions the British might have about nuclear security.


"You have someone accused of giving away political and military secrets," he said. "To say that that's connected to some questions about nuclear material is simply not logical."