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Russia charges former Estonian spy in Arctic Sea hijacking

RIA Novosti

19:32 13/01/2012 ARKHANGELSK, January 13 (RIA Novosti) - Investigators in the northern Russian port of Arkhangelsk have charged in absentia Estonia's former spy chief, Eerik-Niiles Kross, with organizing the hijacking of the cargo ship Arctic Sea in 2009, a spokesman for the regional Investigative Committee, Yury Shperling said on Friday.

“We sent the documents [on the case] to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to put Kross on the federal and international wanted lists,” Shperling said.

The Arctic Sea went missing in the Atlantic on July 24, 2009 while carrying a $2 million shipment of timber from Finland to Algeria. It was intercepted by the Russian Navy two weeks later off West Africa.

Estonian Justice Minister Kristen Michal said Estonia will not give up its nationals to Russia and if the Russian authorities wish to question Kross they should do so via the Estonian Prosecutor General’s Office.

“Estonia will not hand its citizens over to Russia and it knows this well. One of the principles of the agreement on juridical assistance between Estonia and Russia says that if citizens are not exchanged than an investigation of the case is exchanged,” Michal said.

Nine people allegedly involved in the ship’s seizure were arrested.

Latvian national Dmitry Savins, who received a seven-year sentence for leading the attack, testified that Kross, the former head of Estonia's foreign intelligence service, was the mastermind of the operation.

Kross has denied the allegation.

Shperling said that the investigators had “sufficient evidence” of Kross’s guilt apart from Savins’s testimony. He did not specify what that evidence was.

The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Arctic Sea, which triggered a major international search effort, gave rise to suspicions the ship was carrying a "secret cargo" of drugs or weapons. But the Russian authorities insist the ship was hijacked by criminals who demanded a ransom.

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