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A banker and two diplomats were charged Monday with spying for the Russian government in the New York area, using coded messages and secret handoffs to gather intelligence and send it back home.
Evgeny Buryakov, who worked in a Manhattan bank, was arrested in the Bronx and was set to appear in federal court. His alleged confederates, trade representative Igor Sporyshev and United Nations attache Victor Podobnyy, are no longer in the U.S. and were protected by diplomatic immunity.
Buryakov was held without bail at a court appearance where a prosecutor described him as a professional spy.
"His life here, you honor, really is a deception," Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fee said. Buryakov's lawyer said the charges were "merely allegations."
Federal officials say the men’s mission included monitoring potential United States sanctions against Russian banks and U.S. efforts to develop alternative energy resources.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that Buryakov’s arrest — along with the 2010 expulsion of flame-haired spy Anna Chapman and other Russian sleeper agents — make clear that two decades after the Cold War supposedly ended, Russian operatives are still trying to work on American soil "under cover of secrecy."
"Indeed, the presence of a Russian banker in New York would in itself hardly draw attention today, which is why these alleged spies may have thought Buryakov would blend in," Bharara said.
"What they could not do without drawing the attention of the FBI was engage in espionage. New York City may be more hospitable to Russian businessmen than during the Cold War, but my office and the FBI remain vigilant to the illegal intelligence-gathering activities of other nations.”
Buryakov operated under "non-official cover," meaning he entered and remained in the U.S. as a private citizen. He and the others allegedly used spycraft ripped from the pages of a novel.
The FBI intercepted phone calls between Buryakov and Sporyshev in which one would tell the other they needed to hand over an ordinary item, like a ticket or an umbrella, the criminal complaint says. Those were followed by outdoor meetings in which a bag, magazine or slip of paper was passed.
The men were also taped discussing attempts to recruit U.S. residents of Russian origin to work for them — including several people working at major companies and several young women with ties to an unnamed Manhattan university, the court papers say.
All three have been under investigation for nearly five years. The FBI, according to court documents, snooped on the accused spies with hidden cameras and microphones, phone taps, and the use of an undercover source.