In a significant escalation of the charges against the dissident ex-FSB officer Mikhail Trepashkin, the Russian authorities are now accusing him of espionage. An article by Igor Korolkov in last week’s issue of the weekly Moskovskie novosti relayed some of Trepashkin’s own observations about his closed trial; the observations were smuggled out of prison via channels that Korolkov of course declined to disclose.
Trepashkin’s troubles with the authorities have deepened rapidly as he has persisted in challenging the official line on Chechnya and terrorism (see Chechnya Weekly, November 19, 2003). As was already known before last week, he is being accused of having made unauthorized copies of secret information. The formal charges against him state that he did this “for his own purposes…to make complaints about the actions of FSB officials in his meetings with journalists, and to write his memoirs…”
Even that accusation is noticeably vague. It does not mention any specific journalists to whom the accused allegedly gave state secrets; in fact, it mentions only one person, an FSB colleague of Trepashkin’s. Korolkov suggested that “it is not hard to guess” what the prosecution has in mind. While serving in the FSB, wrote the journalist, “Trepashkin conducted an operation to expose a Chechen criminal gang which had been robbing commercial banks in Moscow. In the course of his operation, he arrested several officers of the GRU, FSB and MVD together with the criminals. After this he was fired from the organs, having been accused of conducting this operation without proper authorization.”
According to Korolkov, Trepashkin responded by filing a lawsuit against his former superiors. After producing an FSB document assigning him to lead that very operation, he won in court.
But Trepashkin’s recent communication from his prison cell reported an even more explosive accusation against him. Trepashkin has now learned of a letter from the FSB’s internal counter-espionage directorate (its Upravlenie sobstvennoi bezopasnosti or USB) which states (according to Korolkov’s paraphrase) “that in London representatives of the MI-5 secret service met with Aleksandr Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky. In the course of this meeting, Litvinenko allegedly gave the representatives of British intelligence secret information about the activities of the FSB…At this meeting a plan was allegedly developed for a massive ‘disinformation campaign about the activities of the FSB in the explosion of the apartment buildings in Moscow.’ In this campaign Trepashkin was assigned the role of gathering compromising materials against the FSB, in that as lawyer for one of the victims he had access to materials from the criminal investigation into the explosions.”
Korolkov telephoned Berezovsky and Litvinenko in London; both denied that any such meeting had ever taken place.
As paraphrased by Korolkov, Trepashkin’s communication went on to state that his accusers have suffered some reverses in the secret trial. By his account, the deputy head of the FSB section in which Trepashkin used to work–one Anatoly Zhuchkov–said that at least part of the accusation was fabricated and without legal foundation. Another former colleague, Valentin Agibalov, also seems to have turned from a prosecution into a defense witness.
Korolkov wrote that he tried to confirm the account which he had received from Trepashkin, but that Zhuchkov and Agibalov “categorically refused” to meet with him.