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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Arrests 3 Space Researchers

APLiberal activists protesting the prosecution of Igor Sutaygin and other researchers at FSB headquarters Saturday.
The Federal Security Service has arrested three representatives of a leading rocket and space research center on charges of illegally selling weapons technology to China and misappropriating funds.

Igor Reshetin, the head of TsNIIMash-Export of the Central Research Institute for Machine Building, was arrested Wednesday along with colleagues Sergei Tverdokhlebov and Alexander Rozhkin after an almost two-year investigation into a contract with the same Chinese company that figured in the case of Valentin Danilov, a physicist who was convicted of selling classified information on space technology to China, Reshetin's lawyer Anatoly Yablokov said Friday.

Reshetin has been charged with illegally exporting space technology that can be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction and could face up to seven years in prison if convicted, Yablokov said.

Reshetin, together with Tverdokhlebov and and Rozhkin, has also been charged with misappropriating 19 million rubles ($670,000) spent on outsourcing, Yablokov said, a charge that carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

The three are being held at Moscow's Lefortovo prison, Yablokov said.

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, declined to comment about the case, and a faxed request for comment went unanswered Friday. A spokeswoman for the institute's exports branch also declined to comment.

Several researchers have been convicted in recent years on FSB charges of passing information to foreigners. The arrests have been called an FSB attempt to scare scientists and a manifestation of the agency's growing clout under President Vladimir Putin.

Yablokov said the FSB began investigating TsNIIMash-Export in December 2003 after the completion of a seven-year contract with the China Precision Machine-Building Export and Import Co.

TsNIIMash-Export signed a contract with the Chinese company in 1996 under an agreement between the Russian and Chinese governments on Russian assistance in developing the Chinese space industry, said Viktor Kononenko, another lawyer for Reshetin.

Danilov was convicted last November of selling classified technologies to the same Chinese company, although he insisted that the information was in the public domain.

Yablokov, who defended Danilov, said he has noted parallels between Danilov's case and Reshetin's. He said the FSB had in both cases dismissed testimony from experts that nothing illegal had been done.

"But luckily Reshetin is not being charged with selling anything top-secret. The charges he is facing are much lighter," Yablokov said, adding that he believed authorities were trying to push TsNIIMash-Export out of the rocket and space technology market.

He said TsNIIMash-Export delivered 13 laboratory reports related to the building of manned spacecrafts to China.

China's space program is growing rapidly after it sent its first man into space in October 2003 -- a feat that made the country the third to accomplish the feat after the Soviet Union and the United States. A second Chinese manned spacecraft orbited the Earth for five days this month.

TsNIIMash-Export was founded by the Central Mechanical Engineering and Scientific Research Institute in 1991 to handle foreign space contracts. It has signed and fulfilled more than 120 agreements with China, the United States and European countries.