Lawyer's espionage trial opens in Belarus

The espionage trial of a Jewish American lawyer began behind closed doors in Belarus.

If convicted on the charges of carrying forged documents, drug possession and industrial espionage, Emmanuel Zeltser of New York faces seven years in prison, Reuters reported.

Belarusian authorities arrested Zeltser in March as soon as his plane touched down in Minsk, where he arrived to represent the interests of Josef Kay.

Kay is in a struggle to claim the assets of Arkady Patarkatsishvili, a Georgian billionaire who died earlier this year.

In a series of events clouded in secrecy, Zeltser flew to Minsk on the private plane of Boris Berezovsky, a Jewish oligarch in voluntary exile from Russia. Berezovsky was a business partner of Patarkatsishvili and is also seeking a portion of his estate.

The U.S. State Department and its embassy in Belarus, which has been reduced to a skeleton staff over the past six months in a diplomatic struggle, have expressed concern over Zeltser's detainment. They have called for his release for health-related reasons, saying his detainment may lead to irreversible damage or death.

In a session at the Belarusian embassy in May, the highest-ranking State Department official in Belarus told JTA that U.S. officials had only been allowed one visit to the lawyer.

Zeltser originally was arrested only on the forged documents charges, but Belarusian authorities later tacked on the espionage and drug possession charges. Zeltser's lawyer said the drugs were pain pills for his client's back.