U.S. lawyer goes on trial in Belarus for spying

MINSK (Reuters) - A U.S. lawyer went on trial behind closed doors in Belarus on Thursday charged with carrying forged documents, drug offences and industrial espionage -- offences that could carry up to seven years in prison.

Emmanuel Zeltser, a New York-based specialist in Russian law and organized crime, was arrested in March at the height of a diplomatic row between ex-Soviet Belarus and the United States.

He was initially charged with using forged documents, and the other accusations were added subsequently.

"Under Belarusian law, he faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty," said his lawyer, Dmitry Goryachko.

He gave no details of the court's first, hour-long sitting on grounds that the trial was closed. Also standing trial on the documents charge was Zeltser's secretary, Vladlena Funk.

"My client's physical state can be described as stable but serious," Goryachko said.

Belarus, accused by Western countries of repressing basic human rights, asked the U.S. ambassador to leave in March following U.S. sanctions against its oil producer, Belneftekhim.

The drugs charges were added after Belarus's security service, still known by its Soviet-era KGB initials, said more than 100 tablets found to be narcotics had been discovered on Zeltser.

Zeltser's lawyer said the drugs were to treat a back ailment.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concern over Zeltser's detention.

Zeltser was born in Russia but emigrated to the United States. He is a director of the American Russian Law Institute, which promotes legal reform in Russia.

He traveled to Belarus to represent the interests of Josef Kay, a relative of the late Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili.

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Kevin Liffey)