- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2000

Edward Pope's Kafkaesque nightmare has finally come to an end. After he was arrested on April 3 by Russian authorities and sentenced on Dec. 6 to 20 years in prison on charges of espionage, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided on Thursday to pardon Mr. Pope, following belated intercessions from the highest levels of the U.S. government. Needless to say, Mr. Pope, who may have received a new lease on life, and his family are overjoyed. However, this does not erase the disturbing features of the case, the first major espionage case between the United States and Russia since the end of the Cold War.

This case should be remembered as a testament to the shortcomings of Russian courts. Indeed, the extreme irregularities in the proceedings against Mr. Pope and the insubstantial evidence against him are disconcerting. The fact that an American citizen can be tried under these conditions with such initially muted opposition from the White House and the media is alarming.

It is surprising that Mr. Pope's case didn't resonate more strongly in the United States. Like many other developments in Russia, it ought to command our attention. Mr. Pope was charged with trying to buy classified plans for the propulsion system of a high-speed Russian torpedo. But the American businessman and former U.S. Navy officer said he was trying to obtain the designs for the older, unclassified model of the propulsion system. Mr. Pope's business associates maintain he wanted to adapt those Russian designs to make commercial ferries and cargo ships faster in the United States. The royalties for using these plans go back to Russia. Mr. Pope has made more than two dozen business trips to Russia since helped to found two high-tech firms in 1997.

Among the many disturbing aspects of the case was the chief witness, Anatoly Babkin, who said he was forced to sign incriminating testimony against Mr. Pope. When Mr. Babkin said he would recant the false testimony, Russia's security service threatened to put him in jail, according to tapes broadcast in Russia. Despite the threats, Mr. Babkin categorically withdrew the false evidence, but Mr. Pope was found guilty by the court all the same.

In addition, the judge denied all but three of the 200 motions made by Mr. Pope's lawyer. And the process was wrapped up with suspicious dispatch. The investigation lasted three months, the hearing two months and the verdict was written in just two and a half hours.

Unfortunately, time spent in jail always comes at a cost. Since Mr. Pope's bone cancer, which was in remission at the time of his arrest, has gone untreated for 8 months, the cost could be irreparably high.

But Mr. Pope won't be the last victim of Russia's judicial system. Russia's request for the extradition of Vladimir Gusinsky, who was arrested in Spain on Tuesday, is also raising warning flags. Although Mr. Gusinsky has reported been involved in murky business dealings, he is more than likely being pursued by the courts because of the criticism his media conglomerate has leveled on the Putin administration. Mr. Gusinsky has been accused of embezzling 250 million dollars.

Mr. Pope's travails are now over. Mr. Gusinsky's appear to have only begun.

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