CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Imprisoned US citizen is charged with espionage by Moscow court

Aug 17, 2023, 10:00 PM

A Russian flag flies in front of a ruby star atop one of the Kremlin's towers in downtown Moscow. P...

A Russian flag flies in front of a ruby star atop one of the Kremlin's towers in downtown Moscow. Photo credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

(CNN) — Moscow court has charged an imprisoned Russian-born US citizen with espionage, Russian state news agency TASS reported Thursday quoting the court’s press service.

The individual, named Gene Spector, is currently serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to bribery charges, according to TASS.

Spector was born and raised in St. Petersburg but later moved to the United States and received US citizenship, according to TASS. He was the chairman of the board of directors of Medpolymerprom Group, specializing in cancer drugs, according to TASS.

In 2020, Spector was charged with mediating bribes for Anastasia Alekseyeva, a former aide to former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, according to TASS. Alekseyeva received bribes amounting to more than 4 million rubles ($43,000), which included vacation trips to Thailand and the Dominican Republic, TASS reported.

A US official at the American embassy in Moscow told CNN they believe that the US citizen was already in jail and added that they had no information on a new charge.

There is no indication the US has deemed Spector to be wrongfully detained.

A US State Department spokesperson said the US is “aware of reports of charges against a US citizen in Russia,” adding that they were “monitoring the situation but have no further comment at this time.”

Tensions between the US and Russia ratcheted up following President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, complicating efforts in the release of two other detained US citizens.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in March, and Paul Whelan – who has been imprisoned for more than four years – are deemed by the State Department as being wrongfully detained. The Biden administration has been working to secure their release.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Whelan, who is being held in a remote prison camp in Russia, a source familiar told CNN.

The top US diplomat told Whelan to “keep the faith and we’re doing everything we can to bring you home as soon as possible,” the source said of the call. This the second time Blinken has spoken to Whelan, the source said. The other call between Whelan and Blinken happened on December 30, another source familiar told CNN.

The Biden administration has continued to reiterate to Russia the serious proposal that they put on the table for Whelan’s release more than eight months ago. Russia has not responded in a substantive way, two administration officials told CNN.

As CNN reported earlier this year, the Biden administration has been scouring the globe for offers that could entice Russia to release both of the wrongfully detained Americans. The US does not currently have any high-level Russian spies in its custody, current and former US officials say, driving the need to turn to allies for help.

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Imprisoned US citizen is charged with espionage by Moscow court