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Russian Court Sentences U.S. Businessman Edmond Pope to 20 Years for Espionage

Aired December 6, 2000 - 1:18 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A Russian court today found American businessman Edmond Pope guilty of espionage and imposed the maximum sentence.

CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty is covering this story for us, she joins us from Moscow.

Hi there, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Hello, Natalie.

Well, at this hour, the lawyer for Edmond Pope and Mr. Pope himself have to decide whether or not they are going to appeal this decision, this verdict to the Russian Supreme Court. As you mentioned, Mr. Pope was given the maximum sentence, that is 20 years in a high-security Russian prison camp. The charge is that he tried to buy data on a high-speed torpedo. Mr. Pope says that he is innocent. In fact, he told that to the court today, said that what he was trying to buy was readily available legally and there was no problem with that.

Asked by CNN how he felt about the decision by the judge today, the lawyer for Edmond Pope was scathing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAVEL ASTAKHOV, EDMOND POPE'S LAWYER (through translator): How does it feel? Feels like you are raped, raped in public shamelessly. The verdict was like a crown of thorns, the triumph of lawlessness and anarchy that dominated this trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: But the FSB, which arrested Mr. Pope back in April of this year, said that this was simply vindication for its case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. ALEXANDER ZDANOVISCH, RUSSIAN SECURITY SERVICE (through translator): We are satisfied that the court has confirmed the correctness and the legality of the federal security services' actions by reaching a guilty verdict today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: Edmond Pope's wife has written two letters to President Vladimir Putin, urging him to free Mr. Pope on humanitarian grounds, she says she has received no answer. And today, the Kremlin had no immediate response to the decision in the Russian court.

The only public comment that has come from President Putin was a comment to CNN's Larry King many month ago in which he indicated that if this eventually came to him, he would take the health of Mr. Pope into consideration. He has been treated for cancer in the past in the United States. And the U.S., Mrs. Pope and his lawyer claim that his health has deteriorated in prison.

And there also has been reaction coming out of Washington, and for that we go to CNN's Andrea Koppel at the State Department.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Jill.

Strong words today both from the White House and here at the State Department, administration officials expressing deep disappointment in the Pope verdict. Administration officials also urging the Russian government to release Pope as soon as possible on humanitarian grounds, warning that this has already caused a deep rift in U.S.-Russian relations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE SIEWERT, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, there's no doubt this has cast a shadow over U.S.-Russian relations. The president has expressed his concern about Mr. Pope. As I've -- we've said at a number of different levels, we've seen no evidence that he's guilty of the crimes for -- under which he's been charged. And we think that we've continued to stress throughout our meetings with the Russians and the Russian government that he ought to be released.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Now, even though no U.S. official was allowed to be in the court present during any -- at any point during this trial, the Clinton administration insists that had evidence been allowed to be presented by Mr. Pope's Russian attorney, the Russian court would have seen for themselves that Mr. Pope is not a spy, that he is simply an American businessman who is trying to get involved in the high-tech industry and that he is not, according to U.S. officials, guilty as he has been charged in Russia.

Reporting live, I'm Andrea Koppel, CNN, at the State Department.

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