A JUDGE in New York has ordered 10 defendants who admitted acting as Russian spies deported from the United States in a swap that results in four spies being released by Russia.
Federal Judge Kimba Wood announced the resolution of the case as she went immediately from guilty pleas to a conspiracy charge by the defendants to a brief sentencing in Manhattan.
It was expected that the defendants would be sent out of the country within hours of the historic spy swap, the largest between the US and Russia since the Cold War.
The defendants were arrested last week after more than a decade of spying on the United States.
Two Obama administration sources said the Russian government will release four people in the spy swap with the United States, speaking on condition of anonymity because papers in the spy case are in the process of being publicly released.
They would not disclose the names of those being released by Russia.
But Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms control analyst convicted of spying for the United States, was reportedly plucked from a Moscow prison and flown to Vienna earlier yesterday.
The swap will have significant consequences for efforts between Washington and Moscow to repair ties chilled by a deepening atmosphere of suspicion.
The defendants each announced their pleas to conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Some spoke with heavy Russian accents, sometimes in broken English, despite having spent years posing as American and Canadian citizens.
An 11th defendant was a fugitive after he fled authorities in Cyprus following his release on bail.
The defendants provided almost no information about what kind of spying they did for Russia. Each acknowledged having worked for Russia secretly, sometimes under an assumed identity, without registering as a foreign agent.
Chapman mentioned she had communicated with a Russian official via a wireless signal, sent from her laptop. Asked by the judge whether she realised at the time that her actions were criminal, she said: “Yes I did, your honour.”
The arrests occurred more than a week ago, capping a decade-plus investigation of people who appeared to have embedded themselves in the fabric of American life. Authorities said they were reporting what they learned in the US to Russian officials.
Defendant Richard Murphy acknowledged that from the mid-1990s, he lived in the US under an assumed name and took directions from the Russian Federation. Asked if he knew his actions were a crime, he said: “I knew they were illegal, yes, your honour.”
“It’s a resolution that will put this thing behind him as quickly as we can arrange it,” said Peter Krupp, an attorney for Donald Heathfield, before the hearing.
Russian and US officials have refused to comment on any possible swap.
US Attorney Preet Bharara would say only that prosecutors strive in all cases “to make sure that justice is served if consistent with the needs of national security, and the way we deal with national security is to make sure that is done in a way that is consistent with justice”.
“Whatever the disposition is in this case, I think people should be confident it was done in the interest of national security and justice,” Bharara said.
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