msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/19/2011 10:54:18 AM ET 2011-05-19T14:54:18

An Israeli military attache who was expelled from Russia was carrying secret information when he was detained, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

The ministry said Vadim Leiderman was declared persona non grata "in connection with activity incompatible with his diplomatic status" and ordered to leave the country "within 48 hours, which he did," according to state news agency RIA Novosti's English language service.

He was apprehended by Russian agents while having dinner on May 12, Israel's Channel 2 TV said.

In a statement late Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces said Leiderman, a colonel, was "taken for a surprise investigation by Russian government officials on suspicion of spying."

"Defense officials in Israel did a thorough, deep check on Col. Leiderman and discovered the claims were unfounded. Col. Leiderman is currently in Israel and underwent a security investigation by defense forces over the weekend," it said.

'Overly active work'
According to the AFP news agency, RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed Russian secret service official as saying Leiderman's detention "deals entirely with industrial espionage — or rather, his overly active work on behalf of certain Israeli companies on the Russian market."

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Leiderman was arrested at a meeting in a restaurant "in what appeared to be a violation of his diplomatic immunity."

The paper said Leiderman was born in the former Soviet Union, and has a doctorate in engineering. It added that he was a member of the Israel Air Force (IAF) technical corps, and had worked for the IAF in the U.S. for several years.

It reported that Israel's Shin Bet security service had questioned Leiderman to determine if he had met with a foreign agent, but he was cleared.

The incident happened during an official visit to Russia by a group of Israeli lawmakers.

Haaretz said Israeli officials thought the arrest "was the result of a power struggle between several Russian security services."

It noted that a Mossad representative Reuven Dinel was detained in Moscow in the 1990s after he bought satellite images from a firm that was part of Russian intelligence.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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