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Fidel Castro calls U.S. spy case ridiculous

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Saturday called charges that a former U.S. State Department official and his wife spied for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years “ridiculous” and described the case as an “espionage comic strip.”

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Castro neither confirmed nor denied the veracity of the spy charges brought by U.S. authorities against Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and Gwendolyn Myers, 71, or the U.S. Justice Department’s assertion that Kendall Myers used his top-secret security clearance to give classified information to Havana.

But in a dismissive column posted on a website on which he writes about Cuba and world affairs, Castro said he could not recall meeting the couple at some point in 1995, as alleged by the U.S. Justice Department.

“At the time I met with thousands of North Americans for different reasons, both individually and in groups ... so I can hardly be asked to remember details of a meeting with just two people,” he wrote.

The 82-year-old Castro retired as Cuba’s president in February 2008 due to health problems, handing the post to his younger brother Raul.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006. But his comments on the arrest of Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, announced on Friday by officials in Washington, were the first from the communist-ruled island.

“Doesn’t this Cuban espionage comic strip seem pretty ridiculous?” Castro asked.

Castro noted that Kendall Myers was alleged to have received “lots of medals” from the Cuban government for his spying, but added that Myers not been accused of accepting any payment or benefits from Cuba.

“As a matter of principle, I can assure you that we have never tortured nor paid anyone to obtain any sort of information,” he said.

“Those who in one form or another have helped to protect the Cuban people from the terrorist plans and assassination plots organized by various U.S. administrations have done so at the initiative of their own conscience and are deserving, in my judgment, of all the honors in the world,” he added.

He did not elaborate but suggested that the “strange” spy case may have been cooked up with a view toward scuttling recent “contacts between the United States and Cuban government over important matters of mutual interest.”

Those contacts, and President Barack Obama’s easing of the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, have kindled hopes that the countries might be ready to end years of hostility.

Editing by Will Dunham