Russian spy-banker sentenced to 2.5 years in US prison

Court sketch of Evgeny Buryakov © Jane Rosenberg
A Russian banker in New York who pleaded guilty of conspiracy to work for Russian intelligence has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. The man was caught with the help of counter-intelligence work by the FBI, it was revealed in court.

Evgeny Buryakov, 41, the alleged Russian foreign intelligence (SVR) operative, was a non-official cover agent, also known as a NOC. Such targets are incredibly valuable to the host country, being potential goldmines of information. Unlike those who work in official foreign government posts, they are made to blend in, and do not enjoy the same government protection that an agent working for the consulate might.

He worked at the Russian-owned Vnesheconombank in Manhattan.

The prison sentence announced Wednesday is the result of a plea deal, involving the maximum five-year sentence cut in half, combined with a $100,000 fine.

The story stretches back to 2013, when Buryakov was first made by the FBI. The Americans had planted what’s called a ‘dangle’ – one of their own – acting as an analyst for an NY-based energy company to be ‘recruited’ by Buryakov.

According to the Department of Justice, Buryakov had teamed up with two colleagues working under diplomatic cover to gather sensitive information on potential sanctions against Russian banks and on the American development of alternative energy resources. The trio was active from 2012 through to January 2015, when the arrest was made.

Buryakov and his attorney declined to comment at sentencing, although the defendant’s lawyers earlier told Reuters there were “doubts about the government’s most serious allegations.” Chief among them was the assertion that Buryakov was a full-blown SVR agent, and not an ordinary civilian asset.

The way the Russian agent was made was through the American FBI agent allowing him to get closer and recruit him. Once that was done, the American was able to gather information in a more relaxed manner, even planting bugs in the binders containing supposed energy industry projections. Once those were taken back to the SVR’s offices, the FBI could listen in.  

READ MORE: Moscow on ‘spy scandal’: No grounds for arrest, US stoking ‘anti-Russian feelings’

Despite the allegations made in court, the defense alleged in a presentation that there was still no charge that claimed Buryakov possessed or passed along any information that was not already publicly available.

Among other things, the two Russians with whom Buryakov worked were heard discussing the recruitment of New York-based civilians as assets – something that was also missing from the charges, as it hadn’t taken place at the time.

In 2013, the FBI had garnered enough evidence to convict Buryakov, but evidently wanted more. A year later, they set up a meeting between the Russian and two American operatives posing as investors to discuss a “casino development project” with the SVR agent. He was arrested months later, with the two other Russians fleeing the country thanks to diplomatic cover.  

According to Reuters, Buryakov, who has already spent 16 months in prison, will receive credit, and will be deported upon completion of the 2.5-year sentence.

"This sentence reflects the seriousness of the offense," District Judge Berman said at sentencing.

The two other operatives arrested were not NOCs, but were also suspected SVR operatives, according to prosecutors. Officially, Igor Sporyshev worked for Russian-owned Vnesheconombank, and Viktor Podobnyy – the other operative – was an attache at the Russian mission to the United Nations.

According to prosecutors, their mission commenced shortly after the arrest of 10 other Russian sleeper agents. That particular case later became the foundation for the popular US show ‘The Americans’.