A spy scandal may be brewing in Ukraine after the media reported on Monday that the security service suspects the director of a research institute there of passing secret information to the United States.
On December 19 last year, investigators from the Ukrainian Security Service visited the Institute of Sorption and Problems of Endoecology, which researches sorbents capable of absorbing radiation, and confiscated a computer used by the institute's director, Professor Volodymyr Strelko.
They said Strelko, who was on a vacation in the United States at that time, was sending information related to the Chernobyl disaster to his counterparts in the U.S., for which he received large grants.
The Ukrainian Security Service has confirmed that it conducted checks to see whether it was legal for the institute’s workers to send information and documents abroad, but added that it did not conduct any investigative work at the institute on December 19.
Strelko denies the accusations against him, saying the security service is being manipulated to pressure the institute and remove him from his post as director of the institute, which does research work on sorbents for medical and ecological needs.
“Someone took advantage of my vacation and with the help of Security Service officers is trying to impose pressure on me as a director, to intimidate and isolate me from the institute, and to disrupt important work on medical sorbents and a solution to Chernobyl's ecological problems. I have no doubts at all that this raid was staged,” Strelko said in an interview with Ukrainian weekly Zerkalo Nedeli (Mirror of the Week).
Although no official charges were pressed against Strelko, the 74-year-old academic remains in the United States saying he fears arrest if he returns home.
“I have a bad feeling that I would be put in a pre-trail detention center until ‘circumstances are investigated’… I am turning 75 this year and I am not sure if I would be able to stand this ‘investigation’ physically,” he said.
Strelkov’s colleagues at the institute also deny his involvement in espionage saying his internet correspondence with scientists abroad was necessary for research work and exchange of information.
“Any scientist understands that no work is possible without an exchange of information. This is not espionage. There is always a common interest in science,” KyivDaily.com.ua quoted Valeriy Zazhihalov, a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, as saying.
Strelkov’s deputy Volodymyr Brei said the professor was on the verge of discovering a new technology and used internet correspondence to discuss it with his foreign colleagues.
“The director has discovered some sort of technology, but he could not give it without the proper permits. He is an academic, why would he ruin his reputation?” Brei said.
Security service’s visit to the institute on December 19 was followed by more visits, during which radiation levels at the facility were measured, in an apparent attempt to find health violations.
“They think we are poisoning people with radiation,” Brei said, adding that no work with radioactive materials is conducted at the institute.
Brei said he also believes that the spying suspicions are being used to remove Strelkov from his post. The institute had planned to give him a new term as director this April.
“There are people who are interested in his resignation,” Brei said, but did not give names.