May 25, 2016 / 4:21 PM / 2 years ago

Russian banker accused by U.S. of spy role gets two-and-a-half years in prison

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Russian banker who U.S. prosecutors say was involved with a spy ring operating in New York City that sought to collect economic and other intelligence was sentenced to two-and-a-half two-and-a-half years in prison on Wednesday.

Evgeny Buryakov, 41, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan and fined $10,000 after pleading guilty in March to having conspired to act improperly as an agent for the Russian government.

The sentence followed what prosecutors had agreed to seek under a plea deal. Buryakov, who will receive credit for the 16 months he has already spent in custody, is expected to be deported after completing his sentence.

“This sentence reflects the seriousness of the offense,” Berman said.

Buryakov, who worked at Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, was arrested in January 2015 and charged along with two other Russians, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy.

Officially, Sporyshev worked as a Russian trade representative, while Podobnyy served as an attaché to the country’s mission to the United Nations. But prosecutors said all three also worked with the SVR, the Russian intelligence service.

Prosecutors said the trio conspired to gather economic intelligence on behalf of Russia, including information about U.S. sanctions against the country, and to recruit New York City residents as intelligence sources.

Authorities said their conspiracy began in 2012, following the arrest of 10 Russian agents in 2010 who later pleaded guilty as part of a spy swap between the U.S. and Russian governments.

Prosecutors said Buryakov, in his role as an agent for Russia and the SVR, participated in efforts to obtain information relating to the U.S. Treasury Department and the New York Stock Exchange.

Those efforts included participating in a May 2013 call with Sporyshev in which Buryakov helped formulate questions meant for intelligence-gathering purposes to put to the NYSE.

The questions involved exchange-traded funds, including the “mechanisms of their use to destabilize the market,” and were submitted to the NYSE by a purported bureau chief for Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, prosecutors said.

In court papers, Buryakov’s lawyers contend there are “doubts about the government’s most serious allegations” against him, including that he was an agent not just for the Russian government but for SVR.

But prosecutors have said they stand by their allegations.

Neither Sporyshev nor Podobnyy was arrested because they had diplomatic immunity.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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