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Monday, December 03, 2007

Trepashkin Gets his Freedom

Locked up just before Vladimir Putin sought reelection, Mikhail Trepashkin has now been released just after Putin has consolidated his grip on the Duma. The Moscow Times reports:

Mikhail Trepashkin, a former Federal Security Service agent, was freed from a Urals prison on Friday after serving four years for divulging state secrets. Trepashkin, who maintains that the FSB set him up after he uncovered evidence of its involvement in the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings, expressed relief when speaking to reporters after his release. "The worst is in the past. Before, I fought on my own, but now I have many more supporters," Trepashkin said during an impromptu news conference in central Yekaterinburg on Friday, The Associated Press reported. "I've served four years for things I haven't done," he added.

After resting at a friend's house in Yekaterinburg, Trepashkin flew to Moscow to meet his wife, Tatyana, and three children. Tatyana Trepashkina said in e-mailed comments Friday that she had "mixed feelings" about meeting her husband, a potential witness in the poisoning death of his former FSB colleague, Alexander Litvinenko. "I myself don't even know what to expect from Mikhail, though I am hoping for the best," Trepashkina said, adding that she was currently looking for a clinic in Moscow to treat her husband's asthma, which he developed in prison.

Before his arrest, Trepashkin turned down offers from London-based Kremlin foe Boris Berezovsky to move there, despite his wife's pleas. "Now he might agree to go to London," she said. "Now he probably has no grounds to be so stubborn." But Gleb Edelev, head of the Yekaterinburg Movement Against Violence and Trepashkin's friend, said he had no plans to leave the country. "Mikhail has said he is going to sue the authorities for wrongful arrest and fight for the rights of other prisoners, so I would say there is little likelihood he is planning anything like that," said Edelev, who was one of the first to meet Trepashkin on his release.

Although prison authorities had informed Edelev's group that Trepashkin would be released around midday Friday, the former FSB agent was actually freed at 8 a.m., when it was still dark, Edelev said. Out of prison and on the street, he made a call from a pay phone to arrange a meeting with his supporters in central Yekaterinburg. He flagged down a passing minibus and traveled alone along the 2 1/2-hour route from the Nizhny Tagil medium-security prison, Edelev said. Last month, a court ordered Trepashkin to serve the last two weeks of his sentence in a higher security prison in Nizhny Tagil, leading friends and family to worry he might not survive. "We couldn't believe that decision, and we were very scared something would happen," Edelev said.

Trepashkin was arrested on suspicion of illegal firearms possession in October 2003, weeks before he was to give evidence in a court hearing into the 1999 apartment bombings. The following year, he was sentenced to a four-year term for divulging state secrets. The judge ruled that Trepashkin made copies of FSB files on certain criminal figures and stored them in his Moscow home. Trepashkin, then a lawyer by profession, said the charges had been fabricated.

Some believe the sentence to be FSB revenge for a news conference he held with Litvinenko, at which the two accused the FSB of corruption and operating a department that carries out extra-judicial killings. Litvinenko died in a London hospital in November last year after ingesting a highly radioactive isotope that some said could only have been produced in Russia. Britain charged a former Federal Guard Service officer, Andrei Lugovoi, with Litvinenko's murder earlier this year. Lugovoi met with Litvinenko in a London bar three weeks before he died.

Citing a constitutional ban, Russia has refused to extradite Lugovoi, who was on the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party's list for Sunday's State Duma elections, despite Britain's insistence that he be handed over to stand trial. Trepashkin had an emotional telephone conversation with Litvinenko's widow on Saturday, the AP reported. Marina Litvinenko, 44, broke down in tears as she spoke with Trepashkin by phone a day after the former agent was released from jail. Trepashkin has said he was asked in 2002 to join a group of Russian intelligence agents targeting Berezovsky and Litvinenko. He said he warned Litvinenko about the alleged death squad. After the phone call, Marina Litvinenko said Trepashkin had promised to provide a written deposition on his claims to lawyers who have opened a case against the Russian government in the European Court of Human Rights for complicity in her husband's murder, the AP reported. "He told me that it's very important to show people that this operation was launched four years ago," Marina Litvinenko said.

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