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Russian court halts treason trial of arms expert

MOSCOW, Dec 27 (Reuters) - A court halted the treason trial on Thursday of Russian arms expert Igor Sutyagin -- accused of passing nuclear submarine secrets to Britain and the United States -- so prosecutors could gather more evidence against him.

On what had been scheduled as the last day of his trial, the regional court in Kaluga, a town near Moscow, ordered that Sutyagin remain in detention, where he has been held for two years.

The court said the prosecution case was in places confused and inadequate but refused to release the arms expert from Russia's highly respected USA-Canada Institute. Russian law allows the court to stop a trail to allow the prosecution to gather more evidence.

Defence lawyers said they would challenge continued detention of Sutyagin, who has been held in custody since his arrest in October 1999.

The FSB domestic intelligence agency, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, accuses him of passing the secrets about Russian nuclear submarines to London and Washington.

Sutyagin, who denies the charges, could be jailed for 20 years if convicted.

His arrest followed the conviction of U.S. businessman Edmond Pope in December 2000. The former U.S. naval intelligence officer was sentenced to 20 years for trying to acquire state secrets about a high-speed torpedo, but was later pardoned by President Vladimir Putin.

The case alarmed Sutyagin's colleagues and Russia's academic world in general, as it came against the background of a string of prosecutions of researchers and scientists brought by the FSB, which was once headed by former KGB agent Putin.

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