- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

MOSCOW The case of John Tobin, the U.S. Fulbright scholar jailed on a drug conviction in Russia, took a new twist today when officials from the Russian counterintelligence agency said they may bring new espionage charges against him.
A spokesman in Moscow for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor to the KGB, said in a telephone interview that the new accusations against Mr. Tobin could be based on the testimony of a Russian scholar who claimed Mr. Tobin tried to recruit him as a spy for the United States. The spokesman refused to give his name.
Pavel Bolshunov, an FSB spokesman in the southern city of Voronezh, said the scientist, Dmitry Kuznetsov, identified Mr. Tobin as an agent who interrogated him in a U.S. prison in January 1998.
Kuznetsov, who was arrested on fraud charges a month before, said Mr. Tobin sought information on his scientific research and contacts among other Russian scholars.
The scholar is an expert in toxic agents, Mr. Bolshunov told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
"Kuznetsov's evidence shows that we were right in suspecting Tobin to be a U.S. intelligence agent," he said.
However, Mr. Bolshunov, who is subordinate to Moscow, said authorities were still examining the evidence from Mr. Kuznetsov's testimony and that no new action against Mr. Tobin has been taken.
He said the case was complicated because Mr. Tobin's alleged attempt to recruit Mr. Kuznetsov took place in the United States, not Russia.
Mr. Tobin's lawyer, Maxim Bayev, said he checked with the authorities after hearing Russian media reports today about the new accusations against his client and found out that no new investigation had been opened.
"I think they wanted to stir up tension to prevent the court from setting Tobin free," Mr. Bayev said in a telephone interview. He said the new accusations were absurd.
Mr. Tobin, of Ridgefield, Conn., was doing political research at a university in Voronezh when he was arrested outside a nightclub in January. He was convicted in April of obtaining, possessing and distributing marijuana, but says he is innocent.
A court in the city 300 miles south of Moscow first sentenced Mr. Tobin to 37 months in prison, but earlier this month, a higher court overturned the distribution conviction on appeal and reduced the sentence to a year.
Mr. Bayev filed a second appeal on June 18, which is to be heard within 30 days. Mr. Bayev said he hoped the sentence would be further reduced and that Tobin could be freed as early as next month.
The case attracted attention when the FSB publicly accused Mr. Tobin of being a spy in training and an interrogation expert. No espionage charges were filed, and he has said in e-mail to friends and the Fulbright program that he was framed because he refused to become a spy for Russia.
Mr. Kuznetsov told the FSB that Mr. Tobin promised better prison conditions, a positive outcome of his trial and a monetary reward if he cooperated, Mr. Bolshunov said.
The Interfax news agency quoted Mr. Kuznetsov as saying that prison officials introduced Mr. Tobin to him as an FBI agent. Mr. Tobin asked him to give his written opinion on several works on toxicology, which Kuznetsov said he did and was later paid for.
Mr. Kuznetsov said he was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine several months later and was freed on the condition that he deliver 150 hours of free lectures at U.S. universities.
Mr. Kuznetsov, speaking to Interfax, said that he met with Mr. Tobin in a Voronezh prison earlier this year to make "100 percent sure" that he was the U.S. official who interrogated him at a prison in Connecticut.
"Although Tobin pretended that he saw me for the first time, I immediately recognized that he was the FBI agent who tried to force me to cooperate in prison," Mr. Kuznetsov said, according to the Interfax news agency. "He has a special, characteristic smile."
Mr. Tobin was transferred Saturday from a pretrial detention center in Voronezh to a low-security prison colony in Rossosh, about 90 miles to the south, which has a reputation for better and more humane conditions compared to other Russian prisons.

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