MOSCOW -- A retired Russian Defense Ministry official was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison for passing on about 7,000 maps he bought from a Russian collector to a man who gave them to the Pentagon, authorities said.
Retired Col. Vladimir Lazar, a former senior officer with the military technical department of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, had been convicted of espionage at a closed-door trial in Moscow city court. His sentence also strips him of his military rank, the Federal Security Service Public Relations Center said.
“In the course of the preliminary investigation and the trial it was established that … Lazar, acting on orders from a U.S. military intelligence agent, [Alexander] Lesment, acquired and transferred a significant number of ... images of topographical maps containing state secret information,” it said.
Lazar, who retired from military service in 2003, was convicted of taking the maps to Belarus, where he handed them over via a middleman to Lesment, his former Russian military school classmate, the RAPSI news agency reported.
The Russia-24 television news network reported that the maps were highly sensitive and were used by the U.S. military when it invaded Iraq in 2003 and by the U.S.-backed Georgian armed forces when they invaded the Georgian breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August 2008, which led to a five-day war between Russia and Georgia.
Lazar confessed that he was paid $800 for the maps, Russia-24 said.
“This case of ex-Col. Lazar is very weird,” Alexei Kondaurov, a former KGB general, said in an interview. “Every inch of the earth is known to all major intelligence services who have their satellites up in space round the clock.
“We may not have been told the whole truth about the case, or else this harsh sentence sounds pretty ridiculous,” he said.
This is the third spy verdict in Russia this year, media reports said.
Earlier in May, the Sverdlovsky regional court sentenced Alexander Gniteyev, an employee of a secret research facility, for selling Russian missile secrets to a foreign intelligence agency.
On Feb. 10, a Moscow regional military court sentenced Col. Vladimir Nesterets, a senior testing engineer at the military spaceport at Plesetsk, for handing over information about tests of Russian strategic missiles to the United States.
-- Sergei L. Loiko