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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 20:01 GMT
US 'spy' defended in verse
Edmond Pope
Mr Pope sits behind bars during his closed-door trial
The defence lawyer for a US businessman standing trial for espionage in Moscow has surprised the court hearing the case by delivering his closing arguments in verse.

The lawyer, Pavel Astakhov, read out a 12-page lyric he had composed, urging the court to acquit his client, Edmond Pope, who he said was innocent.


I thought hard how to reach the hearts and conscience of court officials and chose this unusual form

Lawyer Pavel Astakhov
He said the maximum 20-year prison sentence demanded by the prosecution was tantamount to a death sentence for Mr Pope, who is suffering from a rare form of bone cancer.

The defence has argued that documents Mr Pope admits obtaining on an underwater missile system were already in the public domain.

The prosecution, however, accuses him of obtaining classified torpedo designs.

Poetry

Mr Astakhov told reporters outside the closed court session he had praised the judge for recognising that his verse was written in iambic pentameters.

Pavel Astakhov
Mr Astakhov : Unorthodox final plea
He went on to give the press a flavour of his composition.

"I call on you to open your eyes, tune in your ears and speak the truth from your lips. There is one truth. He is not guilty," he said he had told the judge.

The prosecution, meanwhile, repeated its assertion that Mr Astakhov and his team had failed to make a valid case.

"The defence did not ask for a reduced sentence, and offered no convincing arguments," prosecutor Yury Volgin said, on emerging from the courtroom.

A verdict is not expected for another 10 days.

Strained ties

The trial of Mr Pope, who has been held in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo jail since his arrest in April, has strained relations between Washington and Moscow.

The US House of Representatives has urged President Clinton to consider freezing economic aid to Russia, unless the 54-year-old retired US naval intelligence officer is released.

Mr Pope, founder of a company specialising in studying foreign maritime equipment, is the first US citizen to stand trial for espionage in Moscow since 1960, when Gary Powers' U2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union.

Powers was convicted but later exchanged for a Soviet agent working in the US.

Last month Mr Clinton urged Russia to release Mr Pope, who, although in remission from his cancer, has been denied a medical examination since his arrest.

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See also:

21 Oct 00 | Europe
Clinton asks Russia to free 'spy'
05 Apr 00 | Europe
US 'spy' held in Moscow
13 Sep 99 | Britain betrayed
Who's being spied on?
05 Apr 00 | Europe
Analysis: Spymasters change focus
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