YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

9-Person Swap Ends Ordeal of Soviet Dissident

February 12, 1986|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

WEST BERLIN — Eight men and a woman Tuesday crossed a snow-covered bridge that divides West Berlin from East Germany in a major East-West prisoner exchange that included a diminutive Soviet Jewish dissident in a fur hat and heavy overcoat, Anatoly Shcharansky.

"Happy to be here," Shcharansky told one of his escorts, John L. Martin of the Justice Department, in English as he walked from the center of the Glienicke Bridge to a waiting limousine that carried him on the first leg of a journey to Israel.

The journey fulfilled Shcharansky's years-long desire to go to the Jewish homeland and brought to an end more than eight years of his detention in Soviet prisons and labor camps.

Richard R. Burt, the U.S. ambassador to West Germany, met Shcharansky where a white line across the center of the bridge defines the border between East and West

"Welcome to the West," witnesses quoted Burt as saying.

Shcharansky appeared to be relatively fit, despite his years in prison. He was clearly the focus of attention, but he was not the only person who crossed the bridge Tuesday. Three West Germans held in East Germany followed Shcharansky into the West, and five Soviet Bloc agents held in the West were allowed to cross over into East Germany.

The three other prisoners released with Shcharansky were flown aboard a U.S. military plane to Munich for debriefing by West German intelligence agents, government sources in Bonn said.

Other Three Named

The three were identified as Wolf Georg Frohm, 41, an East German; Dietrich Nistroy, 50, a West German, and Jaroslav Jaworski, a Czechoslovak. Nistroy and Frohm were serving life sentences for spying for the West. Jaworski was given a 12-year prison term in 1981 for helping East Bloc citizens flee to the West.

Shcharansky, a mathematician and computer specialist who in 1978 was sentenced to 13 years in prison and labor camps as a spy for the CIA, was driven immediately to West Berlin's Tempelhof airfield and flown to Frankfurt to meet his wife, Avital, whom he had not seen since 1974, a day after their marriage. The Shcharanskys were then flown by an Israeli government jet to Israel and an enthusiastic welcome.

Given Israeli Passport

On his arrival at the airport in Frankfurt, Shcharansky was given an Israeli passport before departing for Israel. The Israeli Embassy in Bonn said he had been granted Israeli citizenship in January, 1974.

The dramatic exchange took place a few minutes before 11 a.m. on the bridge that has figured in previous such exchanges between East and West.

U.S. officials made a special point of separating Shcharansky from the others because Washington has insisted from the outset that Shcharansky had never been a spy for the CIA. The U.S. position is that he was arrested and imprisoned for his activities as a human rights activist and champion of Soviet Jews who wish to leave the country.

Underscoring this position, Shcharansky was driven away in Ambassador Burt's official sedan fully 30 minutes before the others coming out of East Germany were put aboard a minibus.

"This was our way of demonstrating that Shcharansky's case is different from the others," a U.S. official at the scene said..

After Shcharansky's departure, two vans moved onto the bridge, along with a white Mercedes carrying Wolfgang Vogel, the East German lawyer who represented the East in the negotiations.

Vogel walked over and spoke briefly to the freed prisoners, but what he said was not overheard.

West German Cooperation

U.S. officials emphasized that the West German government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl had cooperated fully in arranging for the exchange. They issued a statement that said in part:

"President Reagan and Chancellor Kohl welcome the fact that it has been possible to gain the release of Anatoly Shcharansky, a prisoner of conscience. This outcome is the product of close U.S.-German cooperation over an extended period of time."

U.S. officials said that Shcharansky's release can be attributed in part to the Geneva meeting last November of President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who agreed to reduce tension between their governments by means of an exchange of prisoners. No details were made public at the time, however.

Freed by West

The prisoners released by the West included Karl Koecher, 51, a native of Czechoslovakia who had been the only one of those traded held in the United States. He had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and was sentenced to life in prison. Koecher had passed CIA secrets after infiltrating the agency as a contract interpreter.

His sentence was reduced to the time he served in prison since his arrest in 1984 on condition that the spy swap took place and that he and his wife, Hana, 41, renounced their U.S. citizenship. Described as a courier for the Czechoslovak intelligence service, she had been held as a material witness and joined her husband in returning to the East.

Also released to the East was was Yevgeny Semlyakov, 39, a computer specialist who worked at the Soviet trade mission in Cologne. He was sentenced last September to three years in prison for attempting to obtain high technology that the West Germans had banned for export to the East Bloc.

Another convicted agent returned to the East was Polish secret service officer Jerzy Kazmarek, 33, who was arrested in West Germany last March and accused of spying in the port city of Bremen.

Detlef Scharfenorth of East Germany was freed from a four-year jail term imposed for procuring research data from West German students through bribes.

Los Angeles Times Articles