(CNSNews.com) - A Russian court has granted the request of U.S. businessman Edmond Pope, allowing him to sit during his Moscow trial after a Russian doctor determined the disks in Pope's back were strained from having to stand.
In a case that has damaged relations between Russia and the United States, Pope is being tried in a closed court on charges he sought to obtain classified plans for a high-tech Russian submarine torpedo. Pope denies the charges, saying the information had been displayed at trade shows and advertised as readily available for export.
As the trial entered its fifth week, President Clinton asked Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Brunei Wednesday to release Pope on humanitarian grounds, wire services reported.
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 U.S. 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 while in pre-trial confinement since his arrest in April and is suffering from nausea and kidney pain, according to reports by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
In a setback for the defense Wednesday, a government commission testified that torpedo design plans obtained by Pope were secret, as prosecutors allege, the Interfax news agency reported. "They were never declassified and we don't plan to declassify them," the agency quotes a commission member as saying.
But high-profile defense lawyer Pavel Astakhov said the government commission members are biased because of their familiarity with the technology in question.
In a victory for the defense, Russian professor Anatoly Babkin, a former key prosecution witness who was arrested in April along with Pope, retracted initial statements he made to investigators, saying he was pressured to sign the statements soon after suffering a heart attack.
Babkin was a professor at Moscow's elite Bauman technical university who allegedly sold secret data on new high-speed torpedoes to Pope.
Pope's case received a high profile when the U.S. House of Representatives last month passed a non-binding resolution urging President Clinton to consider withholding future aid to Moscow if the Russians did not free the former officer. Pope's wife, Cheri, has repeatedly appealed to Clinton to intervene on her husband's behalf.
Lawyers for Pope told staffers of Rep. 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.
Peterson's office has not received word on Putin's response to Clinton's latest request, but a spokeswoman said family and friends were hopeful the trial could be concluded next week.
"In any other system, the scales would be tipped in our favor," said Jennifer Bennett. "There have been several people who have gotten on the stand and said that Ed was clearly doing nothing wrong, but there are still a lot of unfair aspects to this trial and it would be no surprise to us if he was convicted. We're certainly hoping for an acquittal, but we still think he could be convicted, in which case we'll have to come up with some sort of political solution."