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updated 12/3/2007 9:04:46 PM ET 2007-12-04T02:04:46

A Russian court on Monday convicted the head of a Russian rocket and space technology company of leaking sensitive technology to China — the latest case involving a Russian scientist who was prosecuted despite claims that the sensitive materials were in the public domain.

Igor Reshetin, head of the TsNIIMASH-Export company, was sentenced to 11½ years in prison by Moscow's Lefortovo District Court, said Anna Usacheva, a spokeswoman for the city courts.

Reshetin, whose company does substantial business with Russia's Federal Space Agency, has been in custody since his arrest in November 2005 by the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main KGB successor agency. He rejected the charges and said the information his company transferred to China was not classified.

Usacheva said, however, that prosecutors had proven that Reshetin unlawfully arranged for sensitive information to be transferred into the public domain.

She told The Associated Press that the information Reshetin handed over to the Chinese could be used for building missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The case highlighted Russia's concerns about China's growing might and also reflected authorities' growing suspicion about academics and scientists involved in sensitive technologies having contacts with foreigners.

TsNIIMASH-Export, based outside Moscow, is owned by the state-controlled Central Research Institute for Machine Building, the top research institute of the Russian space agency. TsNIIMASH-Export provides technical oversight for many Russian space-related projects.

After decades of rivalry, Moscow and Beijing developed what they call a strategic partnership since the 1991 Soviet collapse, and China has become the biggest foreign customer for Russia's weapons industry.

Russia also sold China the technology that formed the basis of its manned space program. The Chinese Shenzhou closely resembles the Russian Soyuz, the spacecraft that is the backbone of the Russian program.

Despite burgeoning ties, however, some Russian politicians and experts have voiced concern about China's growing might and its bursting-at-the-seams population just over the border from Russia's scarcely populated Far East.

Russia's space agency chief has said that the government would not transfer any sensitive technologies that could enable Beijing to become a rival in a future space race.

Several other Russian scholars and journalists have been targeted by the FSB for alleged espionage or misuse of sensitive information. Rights advocates say the security agency has been emboldened in its efforts to discourage unsupervised contacts with foreigners since Vladimir Putin, a KGB veteran and one-time FSB head, first was elected president in 2000.

In 2004, physicist Valentin Danilov was convicted of spying for China and sentenced to 14 years in prison for providing allegedly sensitive information that he said had been published in part in publicly available scientific magazines.

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