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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Babkin Found Guilty of Espionage

APAnatoly Babkin and his lawyer Viktor Danilchenko reacting as the verdict was announced in court Wednesday.
Anatoly Babkin, a 73-year-old university professor who has been under house arrest for 34 months, was found guilty of espionage by a Moscow court Wednesday and given a suspended sentence of eight years in prison.

Babkin, a professor at Moscow's prestigious Bauman Technical University, was accused of providing classified information about the high-speed Shkval torpedo to Edmund Pope, a businessman and former U.S. Navy intelligence officer who was convicted of espionage in December 2000. President Vladimir Putin pardoned Pope within a week.

Prosecutors said Pope paid Babkin a total of $25,000. Babkin denies this.

"Pope was an intelligence officer, and Babkin acted as his assistant," Prosecutor Ilya Yerokhin said after the verdict was issued Wednesday.

Babkin maintained his innocence during the two-month trial. He testified that the Federal Security Service had forced him to confess to espionage during the Pope investigation.

"I have done nothing to break the law. I am not guilty," he said firmly after the trial. "During the investigation, I was bluntly told by investigators that my case is political and has nothing to do with blueprints."

Babkin's lawyer, Viktor Danilchenko, said he would appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.

Moscow City Court Judge Nina Kuznetsova pronounced only the sentence at the end of the trial Wednesday. She did read from her verdict, which the FSB said was extensive and contained classified information.

Kuznetsova declined to award 27 million rubles ($850,000) in damages to the navy, as it had requested. She said the navy should file a separate civil suit.

It was not immediately clear whether the navy would do so.

The prosecutor and FSB officials said they were satisfied with the verdict.

"For me it is important that the court found Babkin guilty," Yerokhin said. "I think the court chose such a light punishment after taking into consideration the defendant's health, age and his academic accomplishments." Babkin has suffered from heart problems in recent years.

"Babkin was found guilty -- that is the main thing," said an FSB official, one of three who attended the sentencing. "I know that if he had been sent to prison, he would have died there quickly. Do you want us to tell you that we would like to have his death on our hands?"

Babkin's lawyer interpreted the verdict differently. "A suspended sentence in such a sensitive case is in fact an acquittal," Danilchenko said. "The judge just did not have the courage to acquit Babkin outright."

Babkin's wife, Galina Yashina, who attended the hearing with the couple's elder son, broke into a furious tirade about the verdict outside the court.

"If Babkin isn't acquitted in Russia, we will complain to the European Court [on Human Rights]," she said, before being nudged into silence by her husband.

The prosecutor and FSB officials offered reporters a detailed account of the case Wednesday. According to their account, Pope, acting as a representative of Pennsylvania State University, signed a $28,000 contract on scientific cooperation with Bauman Technical University in 1997. Pope then approached Babkin to get blueprints for the Shkval torpedo.

The officials said that Babkin, an expert on torpedo engines, provided Pope with excerpts of classified documents on the Shkval engine that had been written by his colleagues. Later, Pope asked Babkin to find classified information on the torpedo's fuel and offered him $20,000 for it, they said. "When we learned about that, we changed our charges against Babkin from divulging state secrets to espionage," an FSB official said. "Pope confessed to this during our investigation into him."

Pope denied doing so Wednesday. "That is absolutely false," he said in a telephone interview from his home in State College, Pennsylvania.

He said he and Babkin had discussed a fuel that was similar to the type used in the torpedo but, knowing that the Shkval's fuel was classified, had not pursued the matter. Pope said that the fuel they had talked about is used in Russian fireworks and that its characteristics are not classified. "I believe that Babkin's case was purely political. I never saw anything classified," Pope said.

The FSB official said investigators seized classified documents about the Shkval's fuel in a raid on Babkin's apartment in April 2000. He said the papers were for Pope.

The Babkin investigation opened in April 2000.

Pope said the FSB told him during his detention that they had confiscated classified information from Babkin that was meant to be sold to the United States. "It is my firm belief that this claim was fabricated by the FSB to fit their script," he said.

Babkin's lawyer repeated Wednesday that his client had used only declassified documents from scientific journals and books in his research for Pennsylvania State University. He also denied that Babkin had accepted any money from Pope.

In addition to the suspended sentence, the court put Babkin on probation for five years, stripped him of his academic credentials and barred him from working in universities for three years.