- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

LANDSTUHL, Germany U.S. businessman Edmond Pope, pardoned by Russia after being convicted of espionage, flew to freedom in Germany yesterday and said: "It's great to be back in the real world."

Looking tired, Mr. Pope held an American flag and his wife tightly as he shouted to reporters from a balcony at the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Mr. Pope, 54, the first American convicted of espionage in Russia in 40 years, arrived at Ramstein Air Base in Germany hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered him released from Moscow's Lefortovo Prison. Just last week, he had been sentenced to 20 years.

Since his April 3 arrest, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence on charges that he illegally obtained plans for a Russian navy torpedo, saying what he purchased was not secret because the technology already had been sold abroad. Mr. Pope sent a letter to Mr. Putin asking for clemency on the eve of his conviction, his wife said.

Denied visits with her husband since the Dec. 6 verdict, Cheri Pope went to the prison yesterday morning only hoping to see him, said Jennifer Bennett, spokeswoman for Rep. John E. Peterson, Pennsylvania Republican. But two hours later, she and her husband were leaving the country on a chartered plane.

The Russian Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, said Mr. Pope was given his personal belongings and a chance to ask questions about the pardon. He had none, the service said.

Mr. Pope was quoted by Russia's state-controlled ORT television as being concerned about the diplomatic implications of his ordeal. "On the one hand, I'm glad, on the other, I regret that it happened like this. I wouldn't want to damage Russian-American relations."

His release came hours after George W. Bush accepted victory in the presidential election; some experts suggested Russia made the move in the hopes of garnering the president-elect's favor.

A Putin spokesman told the Associated Press the Russian leader pardoned Mr. Pope for humanitarian reasons, and to preserve good relations with Washington. The pardon cited "the health condition of the convict and his personal appeal, and also … the high level of ties between the Russian Federation and the United States of America."

President Clinton, traveling in England, welcomed the release, saying, "it is important that humanitarian considerations prevailed in the end."

Mr. Pope who has a rare form of bone cancer will get a complete medical examination before heading home, Landstuhl commander Col. Elder Granger said.

Mr. Pope reportedly lost 25 pounds during his 253 days in jail, but gained some of the weight back after his wife and U.S. Embassy officials began bringing him food, said Mr. Peterson.

Landstuhl, about 85 miles southwest of Frankfurt, has become a way station for Americans in trouble since the end of the Cold War from sailors injured in this year's terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen to soldiers hurt in 1993 fighting in Somalia.

From the hospital, Mr. Pope called family and friends in Grants Pass, Ore., where his mother, Elizabeth Pope, is caring for his ailing father. His two grown sons and a business partner are also there, waiting for him to arrive, Mr. Bennett said.

Mr. Putin, who was on a state visit to Cuba at the time of Mr. Pope's release, had indicated last week that he would likely follow a recommendation from his pardons commission to grant clemency.

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