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The BBC's Rob Watson reports
"How could it happen"
 real 28k

Iain Haddow in Miami
"This case is especially embarrassing to the US because it involves such a senior civil servant"
 real 28k

Saturday, 19 February, 2000, 00:13 GMT
Cuba spy charge for US official

The custody battle over Elian has increased tension between the two nations


A senior immigration official in the United States has appeared in court in Miami charged with spying for the Cuban Government.

The official, Mariano Faget, was detained on Thursday following an undercover operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The FBI says Mr Faget passed classified information to Cuban agents, including staff at the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington.

National defence

According to the FBI, Mr Faget had links with Cuban intelligence officials and with a Cuban-born New York businessman.

Mr Faget allegedly relayed information that could compromise American national defence.

The official, who was born in Cuba, had worked for the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service for 34 years.

Detention

Mr Faget faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of espionage. The FBI has not ruled out further arrests.

Castro The regime led by Fidel Castro denied the acusations that Mr Faget had spied for Cuba
Mr Faget had access to details of how Cubans arranged to leave the country illegally and what contacts defectors had back at home.

According to the FBI, investigators learned of Mr Faget's contacts with the Cubans through routine surveillance and set up a 'sting' operation.

Fake defection

As part of the sting they told Mr Faget that an important Cuban intelligence officer was planning to defect from Cuba.

Then, they asked him to prepare asylum documents.

Only 12 minutes after being told about the supposed defection, Mr Faget telephoned the New York businessman on his cell phone and told him the name of the supposed defector, the FBI said.

"Faget stated the first name of the Cuban intelligence officer and stated that they would discuss the matter later, when he was nowhere near the office," a FBI's spokesman said.

Cuban boy

The FBI says Mr Faget arrest has nothing to do with the case of the six-year-old boy Elian Gonzalez.

Elian survived a crossing from Cuba last November after his mother and stepfather drowned when their boat capsized.

The incident has caused renewed strain between the two nations.

Revelations

Lawyers for the boy's local relatives seized upon the arrest of Mr Faget to urge the US government to reconsider its decision to send Elian back do Cuba.

"In light of the current revelations..., you may well wish to reopen the entire Elian Gonzalez matter, as most all your information came from the INS itself," lawyer Spencer Eig wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno.

The Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington denied Mr Faget had spied for its government.

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See also:
20 Oct 98 |  Americas
Castro admits US espionage
15 Sep 98 |  Americas
Cubans 'tried to infiltrate US military'
04 Feb 00 |  Americas
Elian's story: Special report

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