Russia Postpones Espionage Trial of US Businessman

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

( - A Moscow municipal court Wednesday delayed for two days the espionage trial of American businessman Edmond Pope, a former US naval intelligence officer accused of attempting to buy secret plans for new Russian naval technology.

Pope, who has been detained in a Moscow prison since April 3 without the possibility of bail, denies the charges.

The court Wednesday rejected a request by Pope's lawyer, Pavel Astakhov, that the proceedings be postponed until next week, giving the defense time to study a 26-page indictment against the accused. Instead, the court gave Astakhov until Friday to explain the Russian document to his client.

US Embassy officials and reporters were not allowed to enter the courtroom Wednesday. The trial is expected to take three weeks. If convicted, Pope faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Family members report that Pope's health has deteriorated dramatically since his incarceration. Because Pope is a cancer patient in remission, his health status has been a primary concern for his family and US officials in Russia.

The retired naval officer suffers from a rare form of bone cancer, but Russian officials have repeatedly refused him access to medical specialists, his lawyers and family report. Pope has lost 40 pounds and is suffering from nausea and kidney pain, according to reports by the US Embassy in Moscow.

Following the hearing, Russian lawyers for Pope told staffers of Representative John Peterson - a Pennsylvania Republican who successfully rallied support for Pope on Capitol Hill - that they will continue to press for Pope's release on medical grounds.

The judge gave attorneys two days to submit a list of experts on the type of cancer Pope has. Two member-doctors of the International Myeloma Foundation - an agency that specializes in the type of cancer that afflicts Pope - reside in Russia, defense lawyers said, and Astakhov is attempting to persuade the court to allow at least one of them to have access to his client.

Pope's case received a high profile when the US House of Representatives last week passed a non-binding resolution urging President Clinton to consider withholding future aid to Moscow if the Russians do not free the former officer. Pope's wife, Cheri, has appealed to Clinton, who spoke twice with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, Russian politicians have criticized protests by US legislators as interference in Moscow's internal affairs. Putin has said publicly that justice must take its course.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington said, "What is most important to the Russian government is that everything be done according to Russian law."

The retired naval officer, who researches foreign maritime equipment, was arrested after he openly attempted to purchase a Russian torpedo that had been displayed at trade shows and advertised as readily available for export, his lawyers said.

Pope's lawyers insist their client's arrest and incarceration are politically motivated and that the American businessman has little chance of getting a fair trial under the current Russian judicial system.

"Pavel thinks that if Ed had a chance to have a trial by jury, then they could win easily. But he doesn't believe that, under the current Russian judicial system, Ed will be allowed to have a fair trial, and outside of the FSB [formerly the KGB], there would be very few people who would disagree with that," said a Capitol Hill source familiar with the case.