Saturday 16 December 2017

Spy-swap scientist fears arrest if he returns to Russia

Katherine Butler

It was the most sensational spy story since the Cold War.

Eleven Russian secret agents unmasked in the US, bundled on to a plane, and handed over on the tarmac of Vienna airport in exchange for four Russians jailed as Western spies by Moscow.

Igor Sutyagin was among the four, but he was the only one whose journey brought him to Britain, his alleged paymaster.

The problem for the scientist was that despite serving a decade in jail, much of it in a gulag in the Russian Arctic on charges of passing military intelligence to Britain, he had little, if any, connection to the UK. There wasn't even anyone to meet the plane that dropped him and his few belongings off at Brize Norton.

Nearly three months on, the 45-year-old, who denies, with the full backing of the US, that he was ever a spy, is relieved to be in London rather than the prison in which he hauled wood and wrote thousands of letters to keep himself sane.

He remains trapped however, in a personal and legal limbo, pining for his wife Irina and two daughters, desperate to be back in his homeland, but afraid to return to Russia in fear of being re-arrested under a legal system he says is fatally corrupt and flawed.

"All I want is to try to replace those eleven years I've lost and to rebuild a future for my family," he said.

But while the academic describes dreaming of Russia "in the way British sailors used to dream of the White Cliffs of Dover", the "non-existence" of the rule of law in his homeland makes his return impossible.

He was never issued with a written pardon and so, under Russian law, he fears he could be branded an escaped convict. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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