U.S. deports another person in Russian spy probe

WASHINGTON Tue Jul 13, 2010 7:20pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI's investigation into a Russian spy ring that operated in the United States has resulted in another Russian being detained and then deported, U.S. government officials said on Tuesday.

They said the 23-year-old Russian, identified as Alexey Karetnikov, had been closely monitored by FBI agents since his arrival in the United States in October of last year.

He was caught up in the investigation that resulted in last week's guilty pleas in federal court in New York of 10 individuals who admitted being agents for Russia while living undercover in the United States.

In one of the biggest spy swaps since the end of the Cold War more than two decades ago, the 10 were exchanged in Vienna on Friday for four individuals who had been imprisoned in Russia for contacts with Western intelligence agencies.

In addition to the 10 convicted last week, U.S. prosecutors have charged an 11th person as part of the spy ring. He went missing last month after his release on bail in Cyprus and his whereabouts remain unknown.

A U.S. law enforcement official said there was no evidence that Karetnikov possessed or passed classified information. He has not been charged with any criminal violations.

"This guy was not a big fish," the official said, declining to be further identified because of the case's sensitive nature.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that Karetnikov on Monday was ordered removed from the United States by an immigration judge as part of an agreement.

"Karetnikov admitted that he was present in the United States in violation of immigration law and voluntarily agreed to deportation in lieu of further court proceedings," spokesman Matt Chandler said.

Karetnikov faces criminal and civil penalties if he returns to this country without express U.S. government permission. Chandler said the removal order has been carried out.

The spy swap helped to resolve a scandal that threatened to strain U.S.-Russian relations. Such swaps are not unprecedented but were more a fixture of the Cold War.

U.S. officials declined to comment on whether Karetnikov was part of the spy swap, and said the decision had been made by the U.S. government to deport him to Russia.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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