NEW YORK: Federal agents on Monday arrested an alleged Russian spy in New York accused of trying to recruit sources and collect economic intelligence while working as a Manhattan banker, officials said.
US prosecutors named the alleged covert intelligence agent as Evgeny Buryakov, 39. He appeared before Judge Sarah Netburn in a Manhattan federal court on Monday, a court official said.
Prosecutors said he was assisted in covert espionage by Russian spies Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27, who had been attached to the Russian trade and UN missions in New York.
Sporyshev and Podobnyy were protected by diplomatic immunity and have since left the United States, so have not been arrested. They are charged in absentia, officials said.
Buryakov’s detention is likely to rock already deeply strained relations between Moscow and Washington, which have been at their lowest ebb in years over the crisis in Ukraine and war in Syria.
US prosecutors allege Buryakov started working as an undercover agent for Moscow’s SVR foreign intelligence agency in New York in 2012 while posing as a banker at a Russian bank in Manhattan.
It is the first such case since 10 deep-cover agents including Anna Chapman, were arrested in the New York area in 2010. They pled guilty and were part of a prisoner swap with Moscow.
The FBI said it opened the investigation into the alleged spy ring within months of those guilty pleas.
Attorney General Eric Holder said America was committed “to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States.”
Manhattan Attorney Preet Bharara said it showed that “more than two decades” after the Cold War, “Russian spies continue to seek to operate in our midst under cover of secrecy.”
The trio allegedly communicated through code to arrange meetings and swap intelligence, generally outdoors and in person to avoid electronic interception, US officials said.
In the FBI indictment, the alleged spies who worked for SVR’s economic division complain that the humdrum nature of their work is rather removed from the adventure of James Bond films.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said Buryakov and Sporyshev were under their surveillance as early as March 2012.
From then until mid-September 2014, FBI observed dozens of meetings in which Buryakov passed a bag, magazine, or slip of paper to Sporyshev at meetings set up by a short telephone call.
Prosecutors said they were recorded attempting to recruit US residents, including consultants working for major companies and several young women with ties to a New York university.
In 2013, Sporyshev asked Buryakov for help in asking questions to be used for intelligence gathering by others associated with “a leading Russian state-owned news organization,” prosecutors said.
Officials said the net closed on Buryakov after he met numerous times last summer with an FBI source posing as the representative of a wealthy investor looking to develop casinos in Russia.
The trio are charged with conspiring for Buryakov to act as an undeclared foreign agent.
Buryakov is also charged with acting as an undeclared foreign spy, and the other two with aiding and abetting that offense.
The charges against Buryakov are punishable by 15 years in prison.
It is illegal in the Untied States for foreign spies to operate undeclared.
Sporyshev was Russia’s trade representative in New York from November 2010 to November 2014.
Podobnyy worked at the Russian mission to the United Nations from December 2012, to September 2013.
While both were exempt from declaring their espionage activities, they were not allowed to conspire, aid or abet Buryakov with his work, US prosecutors said.