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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kazakhs Charge 4 As Spies

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakhstan formally charged three Iranians and a Kazakh citizen with espionage Friday, warning that the former Soviet republic would not allow its territory to become a hub for foreign agents.

"We will not allow [Kazakhstan] to be made into a secret rendezvous spot nor let foreign special services think that they will have an open field of activity here," Interfax quoted National Security Committee spokesman Vladimir Bozhko as saying.

Bozhko, who is first deputy chief of the committees department of counterintelligence, said that the four could face 10 to 15 years in prison if they are convicted.

The suspects were arrested Tuesday in the capital Almaty after the authorities said they caught the Kazakh in the act of passing intelligence information to the Iranians.

The Iranian embassy denies that its citizens -- whose names it only received Friday -- were spying for Tehran.

"Right now we cannot specify who they are exactly, but we have full proof that these people have absolutely no connection to any of Iran's intelligence services," embassy spokesman Hamidreza Anvari said.

He would not, however, disclose the names of the suspects nor what proof he had that they were not Iranian spies.

Following the arrests both Iran and Kazakhstan downplayed the possible fall-out on relations between the two countries, especially in the economic sphere.

While this is the first time Iranian citizens have been charged with espionage in Kazakhstan, the National Security Committee said investigators have uncovered 70 incidences of intelligence activity by foreign special services in the Central Asian country since the beginning of 1997.