Russian says U.S. diplomat tried to recruit him to spy

September 01, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- One of Russia's most prominent young entrepreneurs has publicly accused an American diplomat of trying to recruit him and two of his colleagues to work for the CIA, but declared that "not everything here can be bought."

Entrepreneur German Sterligov complained in a letter to U.S. Ambassador Robert Strauss that two of his employees had been refused visas to visit America and that the Wall Street office of his firm, Alisa, has been harassed by FBI agents.

"I know, Mr. Ambassador, that these facts are connected to our refusal to cooperate with the CIA," Mr. Sterligov said in the letter. "We are now being taught a lesson, and this may cost us dearly."

John Ohta, the U.S. Embassy spokesman, confirmed receipt of Mr. Sterligov's letter yesterday but said "the allegations are totally groundless."

The young businessmen said that, during a dinner conversation at the Peking Restaurant in Moscow, David J. Whiddon, a diplomat with whom he had had a few previous conversations, asked him to supply information for "the intelligence service."

"I laughed," Mr. Sterligov, whose trading company has offices in several Russian and overseas cities and also runs exchange markets for building materials, said in an interview. "I tried to make a joke out of it."

But it was clear, he stressed, that the diplomat was serious.

In his letter to Mr. Strauss, a copy of which he gave the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Sterligov said that Mr. Whiddon not only asked him to work for the CIA but also "directly and crudely" stated that if Mr. Sterligov agreed, "Alisa would not have any problems with its activities in the U.S.A."

Mr. Sterligov said the diplomat had previously supplied him and his family with visas without making them go through the normal application procedure, a favor, which Mr. Sterligov said, "seemed strange" to him.

The affair seemed like a strange echo of the intelligence scandals common in Moscow during the Cold War era, when Soviet authorities frequently accused diplomats and journalists of espionage. But Mr. Sterligov was the first of Russia's new businessmen to make such an accusation.

In contrast to past practices, Mr. Whiddon was not immediately declared persona non grata and expelled. Mr. Whiddon, who works in the non-immigrant visa section of the U.S. Embassy, said: "I know nothing about it. All that I know about Alisa is that they receive visas here."

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