Bail hearings for “Russian spies” going in US courts

Nine of the ten suspects accused of operating as Russian agents in the US are appearing in courts for bail hearings.

US prosecutors say one suspect has admitted working for the Russian intelligence service.

RT's Gayane Chichakyan reports from the hearings in Washington.

“I was at the hearings in Alexandria, that’s a Washington DC suburb,” Chichakyan said. “Three of the defendants in the case live very close to the area. They appeared in court, it lasted a few minutes and their bail hearings were postponed until this Friday.”

“What was interesting to watch – there were a few cases heard by the judge before the three appeared in the court room. Those were accused of exporting drugs or something, they were all wearing casual clothes. But when the three alleged spies came in they were wearing these prisoner’s jump suits with the word “prisoner” printed big on their back.

“One of the defendants, Mikhail Semenko, worked for a travel agency. The other two, known by the names of Michael Zottolii and Patricia Mills, are a couple raising two children.

“So what happened today is Semenko asked for a public attorney, and the family couple’s lawyer said they needed extra time because they received new information from the government. They did not specify which government, though.

“Also today, bail for of another two defendants – this time in Boston – were postponed until July 16. Their lawyer said that they are a married couple with two children. He added that the government case against them is extremely thin and they are accused of infiltrating cocktail parties, basically.

“The other four alleged spies appeared in court in New York where prosecutors earlier said one of them, known by the name of Juan Lazaro, admitted he lived under a false name and that his wife, Vicky Pelaez, delivered letters to Russian agents.

“All of the individuals are accused of carrying out long term deep cover assignments in the US on behalf of Russia, although there is no proof in the reports published by the Justice Department that the information the alleged spies obtained and reported to Moscow was classified or in any way breached US national interests, that’s why they are not accused of espionage. They are accused of failing to become registered as agents of a foreign government, but under those charges the alleged spies may face up to 5 years in prison.

“Ten people were arrested in the US, one was arrested in Cyprus but was released on bail and then failed to report to a police station, police say they still don’t know where he is.

“They all face similar charges, except nine are accused of money laundering on top of everything. It looks like Russia and the US are trying to officially dampen tensions here. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did his best to show that the arrests were a law enforcement matter. It also played down any political consequences  – the US State Department said that the scandal is not a setback to improved US-Russia relations.

“Moscow’s message was also quite restrained – Russia hopes that US-Russia relations won’t be hurt by the incident.

“In the meantime, a lot of media attention on the issue shifted from politics to spy glamour. Personal details on the defendants are coming up and the media just gets up on it."