US lawyer charged with spying

A US lawyer accused of having forged documents and charged with espionage goes on trial in Belarus.

Emmanuel Zeltser, who is a New York-based specialist in Russian law and organized crime, was arrested in March.

He is also accused of drug offences and all three charges could carry a sentence of seven years imprisonment.

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

The drugs charges were added to Zeltser's original charges when Belarus's security service said that Zeltser was found to be carrying 100 narcotic tablets. However, his lawyer maintains that the tablets were for treating a back complaint.

Zeltser was born in Russia but immigrated to the US and is a director of the American Russian Law Institute, promoting "legal reform" in Russia.

He was traveling to Belarus in order to represent the interests of Josef Kay, a relative of the late Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili.

The late Georgian tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili was a former business partner of fugitive Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky. After Patarkatsishvili died in February 2008, his estate became the center of a legal dispute between the Georgian businessman's wife, supported by Berezovsky, and Patarkatsishvili's distant cousin Joseph Kay, represented by Zeltser.