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Russian spy defects to U.S., chokes to death on piece of meat

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The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — A former top Russian spy who defected to the U.S. after running espionage operations from the United Nations choked to death on a piece of meat, a Florida medical examiner says.

Sergei Tretyakov, 53, also had a cancerous tumor in his colon when he died June 13, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Associated Press through a state open records request. Tretyakov's sudden death had led to some Internet speculation that he had been killed.

Tretyakov's defection in 2000 was one of the most prominent cases involving Russia's intelligence agency in the past decade. Tretyakov later said his agents helped the Russian government steal nearly $500 million from the U.N.'s oil-for-food program in Iraq. He was 53 when he died, according to a Social Security death record.

His widow, Helen Tretyakov, announced his death July 9, the same day the United States and Russia completed their largest spy swap since the Cold War. She told Washington, D.C., radio station WTOP then that she announced the death to prevent Russian intelligence from claiming responsibility or "flattering themselves that they punished Sergei."

Tretyakov lived with his wife in a peach-colored home in the small, southwest Florida town of Osprey. At the time of his death, his neighbors said they knew he had been a Russian spy.

In a 2008 interview, Tretyakov said his agents helped the Russian government skim hundreds of millions of dollars from the oil-for-food program before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. He told The Associated Press he oversaw an operation that helped Hussein's regime manipulate the price of oil sold under the program, and Russia skimmed profits.

Tretyakov called his defection "the major failure of Russian intelligence in the United States" and warned that Russia, despite the end of the Cold War, harbored bad intentions toward the U.S.

Tretyakov said he found it immoral to continue helping the Russian government.

"I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not very emotional. I'm not a Boy Scout," Tretyakov said. "And finally in my life, when I defected, I did something good in my life. Because I want to help United States."

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