Spy's UK Citizenship Under Consideration

12:46am UK, Saturday July 10, 2010

Adam Arnold and Tom Bonnett, Sky News Online

The British citizenship held by Russian spy Anna Chapman is under urgent consideration, the Home Office has said.

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Spy Ring

Chapman, who was married to a British man and lived in London for several years, was expelled from the US to Russia in the biggest spy swap between the two countries since the Cold War.

The 28-year-old has made clear she would like to return to the UK but British authorities have launched an investigation into her case and could block her from coming back.

A spokeman for the Home Office said: "The Home Secretary has the right to deprive dual nationals of their British citizenship where she considers that to do so would be conducive to the public good. This case is under urgent consideration."

The spy swap defused an espionage drama that threatened improved relations.

Ten Russian agents held in the US were exchanged for four Russians jailed in Russia on charges of spying for the West.

Russian spies in court in New York

Bottom row from right: Richard Murphy, Cynthia Murphy, Donald Howard Heathfield, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Michael Zottoli. Top row from right, Patricia Mills, Juan Lazaro, Vicky Pelaez, Anna Chapman, and Mikhail Semenko in court in New York

The 10 were deported from America and flown to Vienna, as another plane carrying the Russian-held spies also travelled to the Austrian capital.

The two planes were side by side on the tarmac at the city's airport for around an hour and a half, as vehicles shuttled between them.

The Russian plane then took off, followed by the US jet.

The Russian aircraft later arrived in Moscow, while Sky sources said the US plane landed at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, where it stood with engines and avionics on for an hour before taking off and heading west.

Details of Spy Swap

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Sky's Moscow correspondent Amanda Walker said: "This whole operation has been done under a veil of secrecy. TV pictures of the two planes that met in Vienna were very much from afar.

"Officials wanted the jets to be away from all the cameras. It was difficult to see the actual swap taking place.

"But we have it on good authority that it has. It is very likely Russian authorities will want to keep them very quiet. That's the whole point of the spy swap - to make this issue go away."

Earlier, the 10 US-held spies had pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to acting as agents for Moscow.

The group was ordered to leave the US immediately and never return.

They were first arrested on June 27, during an FBI swoop in Boston and the New York and Washington areas.

A Vision airlines plane presumed to be carrying 10 men and women who worked as Russian spies in the United States sits on the tarmac at Vienna airport where it parked next to a Russian jetplane

A plane presumed to be carrying the Russians accused of spying in the US

They were accused of being members of a "deep-cover" espionage ring whose job was to infiltrate US policymaking circles.

All 10 were sentenced to time already served and some had separate charges of money-laundering dropped.

An 11th suspect, the alleged paymaster Christopher Metsos, is still on the run after skipping bail following his arrest in Cyprus.

The deportees included Russian Anna Chapman, who was dubbed the "femme fatale" of the case by the media.

Also known as Anya Kushchenko, the 28-year-old was arrested in Manhattan, where she ran a $2m (£1.3m) real estate business.

Anna Chapman

Femme Fatale? red chevron

See more pictures of alleged Russian spy Anna Chapman.

Spy swaps are not unprecedented but were more a fixture of the Cold War - when the US and the former Soviet Union were sworn enemies.

Both the Kremlin and the administration of US President Barack Obama had sought to prevent the arrests from affecting relations.

Mr Obama needs Moscow's help for efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear programme and keep supply lines open for the war in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Russia wants US support to gain entry to the World Trade Organisation.

Walker added: "Spy swaps have happened in the past, but what's unusual here is that none of these 10 spies served any sentence - and they've been swapped for these four who have served pretty substantial sentences.

"So in the next few days, it is unlikely that we will see much of them out and about."

Robert Baum, lawyer for accused Russian spy Anna Chapman, talks to the presss outside Manhattan Federal Court in New York

Anna Chapman's lawyer Robert Baum after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges

She went on to say that Igor Sutyagin, one of the four people freed by Russia, did not want to leave the country.

Sutyagin, a nuclear specialist, was jailed in 2004 for 15 years after being convicted of passing information to a UK firm allegedly used as a front by the CIA.

Walker said of Sutyagin in the spy swap: "He did not want to leave Russia.

"As far as we know, his family are still in Russia and it is not known if they are going to join him."