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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Opens Pope Espionage Trial

Opening the espionage trial against U.S. businessman Edmond Pope, a Moscow judge on Wednesday agreed to an independent medical examination to determine whether the defendant was healthy enough to remain in prison.

Pope, a retired U.S. Navy officer from State College, Pennsylvania, was arrested April 3 by the Federal Security Service on charges that he tried to buy plans for a high-speed Russian torpedo. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Pope says he?s innocent, and the United States has called repeatedly for him to be released from Moscow?s Lefortovo Prison, where he has been for six months.

U.S. officials have warned that the case could discourage American investment in Russia. Russian officials have responded that the Americans were meddling in Russia?s legal system.

Pope?s lawyer, Pavel Astakhov, told reporters at the Moscow city court that he did not see the 26-page indictment until Wednesday, and that Pope had not been permitted to study it closely because it was based on classified materials.

The judge, Nina Barkina, is to read the indictment at the next session on Friday.

Barkina ordered that the defense recommend by Friday which doctors they wanted to examine Pope, who has suffered from a rare form of bone cancer. Astakhov said he would insist on an American doctor ? a request that has been denied up to now.

"Otherwise, it will be another farce, another fiction, as has already happened many times when a doctor on duty in Lefortovo, after examining Edmond Pope, concluded that he was healthy despite his oncological diagnosis," Astakhov said.

Earlier, Astakhov had argued Pope should be released ahead of the trial to seek treatment for bone cancer, which was in remission when he was arrested. Pope?s wife, Cheryl, has visited her husband several times in Moscow and said she fears the cancer has returned.

The lawyer also demanded a new translator. The translator at the hearing was from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the agency that has lodged the charges against Pope.

"A person who is subordinated to or, because of his work, dependent on the leaders of the investigation ? cannot but be at least indirectly interested in the success of his department," he said.

Pope might refuse to testify because of the translator, Astakhov said. He said that Pope doubted the accuracy of the translation of the indictment, which he was permitted to see three times ? once when he signed it and twice when he was permitted to read it for an hour.

The court hearing was closed, and U.S. Embassy officials were not permitted in. Only Astakhov addressed reporters gathered outside.

"At this stage our concern is about the trial process, about the lack of information," said U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, who was in Moscow for talks on terrorism. (See story.)

Astakhov said his client was pessimistic about the outcome of the trial, which was expected to last up to four weeks, and that he was not feeling well.

A key figure in the case, a university professor named Anatoly Babkin, was not on the list of prosecution witnesses, Astakhov said. The defense will insist that he testify because he helped Pope in his search for unclassified naval equipment designs, he said.

"The whole case is built on the testimony of Anatoly Ivanovich Babkin," Astakhov said. "Either he will confirm his earlier testimony or he will explain the circumstances, will explain how this testimony was produced."

Babkin had been charged with divulging state secrets, but the FSB suspended his case.

Pope worked for the Applied Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University. He later founded CERF Technologies International, a company specializing in studying foreign maritime equipment, and traveled to Russia dozens of times.

Pope?s supporters and family say he was seeking information on an underwater propulsion system that is at least 10 years old and has already been sold abroad. But the Russians say the Shkval underwater missile is leading-edge military technology. The missile glides on huge air bubbles it creates as it goes along, and can build up speeds of hundreds of kilometers per hour.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution last week urging the Clinton administration to link future aid to Russia to Pope?s release.