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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Azeri on Trial for Spying for Russia

Dec. 7, 2006 Kommersant - The trial of Petr Modzhalov began yesterday in the Court for Especially Serious Crimes in Baku, Azerbaijan, yesterday. Modzhalov, a reserve officer, faces 15 years in prison on charges of treason and spying for Russia. He was arrested on October 18 of this year. According to investigators, he became an operative for Valery Lastovsky, an officer in the Russian military's Main Intelligence Department (Russian abbreviation GRU), in 1997 and passed him information on the structure of the Azeri general staff, on the country's battle readiness and its military hardware for payments of $300-400 per report. Russian agents have been arrested in Azerbaijan before. In August 1995, at a tense period in Russian-Azeri relations, Russian officers led by Col. Vyacheslav Abbasov of Russian Army intelligence were arrested in Baku. They were held for about three months without much attention being drawn to their plight by either side and the problem was solved largely behind the scenes. One officer was released. Abbasov and two other officers were charged with lesser crimes and eventually released. Abbasov now lives in Ukraine. In April 2002, the Azeri Ministry of National Security arrested five employees of the Russian FSB in Baku. Tow of them were arrested near the presidential palace. They immediately divulged the names of three more agents, who were then arrested in the Europa Hotel. The media reported that they were in Azerbaijan to watch Chechen militants living there. Their claims that they were searching for private security employment were unconvincing, since that type of work paid ten times more in Moscow than Baku at the time. The agents were turned over to Russia immediately and their arrests did not become an international incident. In February 2003, the closed trial of three Azeri citizens was held. Seyar Akhundov, a driver; his unemployed brother Mubariz, and Sergey Namazov, a commuter train conductor, were charged with treason and working for the GRU. Seyar Akhundov and Namazov were sentenced to 11 years in prison, and Mubariz Akhundov received 10 years. The “leniency” of the sentences was due to the convicts' service in the Kharabakh war and their penitence. According to the investigation, the three men did intelligence work for the Caspian Fleet, which was located in Baku in the 1980s. In 1993, they were contacted again and provided the GRU with information on the political situation in the country, on military facilities, locations of military units, schedules for trains carrying oil, the locations of Afghan and Chechen militants in the country and so on. In spite of the fact that all three had Russian passports as well as Azeri, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that they had no connection with the GRU or the ministry as a whole. Several years ago, Namik Abbasov, who was Azeri minister of national security at the time, stated that there were 295 Russian agents active in his country in the last ten years.

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