Eleven suspects have been charged for allegedly carrying out espionage operations in the United States on behalf of Russia, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement on Monday.
"In total, 11 defendants, including the 10 arrested, are charged in two separate criminal complaints with conspiring to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the United States," the statement said.
Eight suspects were arrested on Sunday as allegedly being deep cover Russian agents in the United States.
Two other suspects were arrested for allegedly participating in the same Russian intelligence operation, while one of the suspects remains at large.
"Nine of the defendants are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering," the Justice Department said.
The charges were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney General carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, while the charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.
The U.S. authorities said the case was "the result of a multi-year investigation conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, and the Counterespionage Section and the Office of Intelligence within the Justice Department's National Security Division."
According to the complaint filed in the court by U.S. intelligence, some of the suspects had been under surveillance since January and part of their correspondence with the Center in Moscow had been intercepted and decoded.
"You were sent to USA for long-term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission — to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in the U.S. and send intels," one of the intercepted messages allegedly said.
The FBI also reported observing various espionage techniques used by the agents to communicate with their handlers, varying from old-fashioned "drops" in parks and faked identification papers to hi-tech electronic encoding.
The evidence submitted by the FBI to the court indicates that some of the suspects were in contact with Russian "state officials," including diplomats from Russia's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York from 2004 to the beginning of 2010.
Officials from the Russian mission have refused to comment on the statement by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"We have no comment on this statement. We have no information regarding this case," a mission spokesperson told RIA Novosti.
The U.S. announcement came only a few days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the United States and may cast a shadow on the bilateral relations that have improved in the past year.
WASHINGTON, June 29 (RIA Novosti)