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The BBC's Steve Rosenburg in Moscow
"The first American in forty years to be found spying in Russia"
 real 56k

Pavel Astakhov, Pope's lawyer
"It was very strange... so quick"
 real 28k

Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 16:39 GMT
US 'spy' freed from Russian jail
Edmond Pope
Pope maintains he is innocent
Russian President Vladimir Putin has pardoned and set free a US citizen convicted of spying in Moscow.

The Kremlin said Edmond Pope had been pardoned for humanitarian reasons and because of the importance of US-Russian relations.

It's great. I feel great. I feel good

Edmond Pope
Mr Pope, 54, said it was great to be "back in the real world" after arriving at a US military base in Germany.

Despite reports that he was suffering from a rare form of bone cancer, Mr Pope was only last week sentenced to 20 years' hard labour, after being convicted of trying to obtain Russian weapons secrets.

Within days, he was recommended for a pardon by a presidential commission.

Mr Pope left Lefortovo prison on Thursday morning, accompanied by his wife, Cheri, who had arrived there early in the morning.

Calls for clemency

Lefortovo prison
The Lefortovo prison
Within hours the American was flown out of the country aboard a specially chartered jet.

"It's great. I feel great. I feel good," Mr Pope told reporters from a balcony at the US military hospital at Landstuhl.

His mother Elizabeth said she had been told he was being taken to Germany for medical tests.

"It's like waking up from a horrible nightmare," she said. "Only when I see him, will I know it's over."

Being guided by principles of humanity, taking into account the health condition of the convict and his personal appeal, and based on the high level of relations between the Russian Federation and the United State of America, I order the pardon of Pope, Edmond Dean

Presidential decree
Under Russian law, Thursday was the first day that President Putin could pardon the American businessman.

The move was widely expected after he denounced the conviction as unwarranted and said he wanted to maintain good relations with Washington.

The US Government had earlier criticised the court which convicted Mr Pope, saying it was biased in favour of the Russian security services. President Clinton called for clemency.

Public domain

The American denied the charge of illegally obtaining classified blueprints for a high-speed torpedo.

He said the information was already in the public domain.

"I am not a spy, even if I have spent eight months in a Russian prison... the only possible verdict is to let me go home to my family," he told the court last week.

Mr Pope was the first American to stand trial for espionage in Moscow since 1960, when Gary Power's spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union.

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See also:

09 Dec 00 | Europe
Putin set to pardon US 'spy'
09 Dec 00 | Europe
Clinton urges Putin to free 'spy'
06 Dec 00 | Europe
Russia jails US 'spy'
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