Russia’s Federal Security Service arrested and charged Robert Shonov, identified as a former employee of the U.S. Embassy in Russia, with conspiracy, Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported Monday.
At a press briefing Monday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told members of the media that he had seen the report.
“I don’t have anything additional to offer at this time,” Patel said, according to the New York Times.
TASS quoted an unnamed law enforcement source as having said Shonov had been detained in Vladivostok, a major Pacific port city in Russia near the borders with China and North Korea.
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After questioning, Shonov was placed under arrest and charged with committing a crime “under Article 275.1 of the Criminal Code (collaboration on a confidential basis with a foreign state or international or foreign organization),” the source reportedly said. He was taken to Lefortovo Prison in Moscow for further questioning.
TASS reported that he could face up to eight years in prison and no court date has been scheduled.
The TASS report did not clarify Shonov’s citizenship, so it is not immediately known if he’s American, Russian or of another nationality.
Lefortovo prison, where American journalist Evan Gershkovich has been jailed on espionage charges, dates from the czarist era and has been a terrifying symbol of repression since Soviet times. The inconspicuous, pale yellow complex in eastern Moscow was built as a military penitentiary in 1881 and was used for low-ranking convicts sentenced to relatively short terms. It gained its notoriety after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, when it became a top detention facility for the Soviet secret police.
Under Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s Great Terror of mass arrests in the 1930s, Lefortovo was one of the main pre-trial detention facilities for “enemies of the people,” equipped with torture chambers to extract confessions. Stalin’s sadistic secret police chief, Lavrentiy Beria, personally took part in some prisoner interrogations and executions in its basement.
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Vasily Blyukher, one of the highest-ranking Red Army officers, was among those who died in 1938 after being tortured in Lefortovo.
Even though it was formally transferred to Justice Ministry jurisdiction in 2005, the Federal Security Service, the top KGB successor agency that is known under its acronym FSB, has maintained de facto control of the facility, according to The Associated Press.
Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive and a former Marine, was held in Lefortovo after his arrest in 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless. After his conviction in 2020, Whelan was transferred to another prison to serve his 16-year sentence.
Lefortovo’s trademark is holding its prisoners in “total information isolation,” Yevgeny Smirnov, a prominent lawyer who has defended espionage and treason suspects, told the AP.
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Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, was put in Lefortovo after his 1986 arrest on bogus espionage accusations. He was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union’s U.N. mission who was arrested by the FBI on spying charges.
Gershkovich, a 31-year-old reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since Daniloff. The Journal denied the allegations and demanded Gershkovich’s release.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.