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Russian 'banker' pleads guilty to spying in United States

The Cold War ended more than 25 years ago, but espionage between the United States and Russia hasn't ended, as a New York federal court heard. One man pleaded guilty to being part of a spy ring.

Spionagering Jewgeni Burjakow

A courtroom sketch from today's hearing shows Evgeny Buryakov, center, flanked by his lawyers Daniel Levin (L) and Scott Hershman (R)

A Russian banker pleaded guilty to spying in New York as part of an alleged ring that sought economic information.

The plea comes less than four weeks before 41-year-old Evgeny Buryakov was due to stand trial.

Dressed in prison garb, the burly defendant pleaded guilty in federal court to acting as a unregistered foreign agent.

"I plead guilty, your honor," he said before federal Judge Richard Berman.

The convoluted case included listening devices planted in binders by the FBI, reminiscent of "a plotline for a Cold War-era movie," said Preet Bharara, the US prosecutor for Manhattan.

"More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russian spies still seek to operate in our midst under the cover of secrecy," he said. "Thanks to the work of the FBI and the prosecutors in my office, attempts to conduct unlawful espionage will not be overlooked."

Prosecutors said Buryakov posed as an employee for the Russian bank Vnesheconombank in Manhattan, but in reality was working for Russia's foreign intelligence agency, the SVR. They said his espionage work went back years, including a previous post he held in South Africa.

A plea bargain

In exchange for the guilty plea, a second, more serious charge of acting as an unregistered foreign agent was dropped. While the standing charge carries a maximum of five years in prison, both sides agreed to a maximum sentence of 2.5 years, including time served, which is more than a year.

Buryakov also faces a fine, perhaps as much $100,000 (89,715 euros), when he is sentenced on May 25.

US prosecutors said the FBI eavesdropped on Buryakov and two other SVR agents for months using the tiny recording devices and an undercover agent.

The bugs allowed the FBI to listen as Russian spies received tasks from Moscow, gathered responses and fed information back to the SVR from January to May 2013, according to US prosecutors.

They were also privy to Russian complaints about the humdrum nature of their work, far removed from the adventures of James Bond films.

Anna Chapman

Chapman at the Cannes film festival in 2013

Buryakov was arrested in January 2015. Two other suspects, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, are thought to have worked for the SVR but had diplomatic immunity and were returned to Russia.

This is the first

Cold-War-like spy scandal between the United States and Russia

since the FBI busted a sleeper cell of 10 Russian spies in the New York area in 2010. The scandal took on a James Bond-like quality when it was revealed that one of the spies was Anna Chapman, who men's magazine "Maxim" included among Russia's 100 sexiest women.

The 10 were sent back to Russia as part of prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow.

bik/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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