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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Italian Faces Belarus Espionage Charges

MINSK, Belarus -- The Belarussian KGB has charged the Italian director of a foreign company operating in Belarus with espionage and charged a Belarussian colleague of his with treason, officials said Wednesday.

Angelo Antonio Piu and Irina Ushak were arrested in April during the transfer of documents containing Belarussian defense data, said Fyodor Kotov, chief KGB spokesman.

The investigation has been completed and the materials sent to the Minsk city court, and Piu has been charged with espionage and Ushak has been charged with treason, Kotov said. He said the trial could begin within days.

The two have been held in a Minsk KGB prison since the arrest, he said.

Piu headed the Anirsavida enterprise in Minsk. Kotov gave no other details of the case or about the company.

Also Wednesday, the Organizatin for Security and Cooperation in Europe dismissed claims in an official Belarussian newspaper that it was spearheading a Western espionage operation to oust President Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko has taken an increasingly hard line against Western organizations since the OSCE and the United States expressed concern that Sunday's election will be rigged.

Sovietskaya Belorussiya, a state newspaper, said U.S., British, and German intelligence agencies were planning "Operation White Stork" to stir up anti-Lukashenko protests on the night of the vote and an attack on his residence.

It said the OSCE and other foreign humanitarian agencies in Belarus were acting as a cover for the operation.

"The article appears to be an attempt to discredit the advisory and monitoring activities which the OSCE has undertaken," the OSCE's Minsk office said in a statement.

The spat came a day after Lukashenko threatened to expel OSCE mission chief Hans-Georg Wieck and U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak after the election.

The OSCE, which said a parliamentary election last year was neither free nor fair, is monitoring the vote.

(AP, Reuters)