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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Babkin Takes Stand, Backs Pope

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The professor accused of selling state secrets to Edmond Pope told a court Friday that information he passed on to the American was available in published textbooks, Pope’s lawyer said.

Anatoly Babkin, a professor at Moscow’s elite Bauman State Technical University, refused to speak to reporters as he arrived at the Moscow court building before being called into Pope’s espionage trial, which is being held behind closed doors.

Pope’s lawyer Pavel Astakhov later said Babkin had retracted statements he had made to investigators, saying he was pressured to sign them soon after suffering a heart attack.

Babkin’s retraction could play an important role in a spy case that has sent a chill through relations between the United States and Russia.

The defense has said for weeks that the case against Pope was built on Babkin’s statements, which the professor would retract if given a chance to testify. The court had previously said Babkin was too ill to appear.

A prosecutor said Babkin had withdrawn only part of his testimony, and prosecutors have previously said they have other evidence to convict Pope beyond Babkin’s statements.

Astakhov said the court had gone through Babkin’s evidence on Friday, asking what he denied and what he stuck by. "He said more than once that he rejected it," the lawyer said.

The defense had given the court Babkin’s written withdrawal of his testimony, an explanatory letter and a medical note, Astakhov said.

He said the professor had told the court he had never given Pope secret documents or personally taken money from him.

Babkin also is charged with selling secrets on a new torpedo to Pope. Pope says he was simply gathering openly available information. He faces a penalty of up to 20 years jail if found guilty.

Astakhov said the court had turned down Babkin’s offer to present textbooks that include the same information that Pope is accused of illegally procuring from Babkin.

Interfax quoted prosecutor Oleg Plotnikov as saying Babkin had not withdrawn all his testimony.

Plotnikov said Babkin had retracted one phrase in particular: "I knew that Pope was an agent," Interfax reported.

Plotnikov said Babkin had been questioned in the presence of a doctor who said he was fit to testify.

He said a search of the hotel room where Babkin and Pope were arrested uncovered plans to test a model of the torpedo Shkval in Russia, Interfax reported.

The controversy over Babkin was given a fresh twist over the weekend when NTV television played an audio recording of two men apparently pressuring Babkin to stick to his original testimony.

U.S. President Bill Clinton has personally asked President Vladimir Putin to free Pope, who suffers from a rare form of bone cancer, on health grounds, but Putin has said the decision is in the hands of the court.