© Yuri Kochetkov/EPA
Chief justice Alexander Ababkov (back centre) announces a sentence, in absentia, on the Russian foreign intelligence service's Colonel Alexander Poteyev in the Moscow district military court.
A Russian double agent who fled to the US after betraying the espionage ring which included Anna Chapman has been convicted in absentia and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Alexander Poteyev was found guilty of state treason and desertion.

Both Chapman and Poteyev's wife, Marina, appeared as witnesses during the trial, and in its judgment the Moscow district military court revealed that he had sent a plaintive text message to the latter after leaving Russia, saying: "Mari, try to take this calmly: I'm not going away for a while, I'm going away forever. I did not want to, but I had to. I will start a new life. I'll try to help the children."

Chapman, 29, and nine other sleeper agents known as "illegals" were captured last year in America after they had been under US intelligence surveillance for several years. They were later swapped for four men imprisoned in Russia who had allegedly spied for MI6 and the CIA. An 11th agent was arrested in Cyprus but then skipped bail and disappeared.

The prosecution of Poteyev, a former Afghan war veteran and long-serving officer in Russia's foreign intelligence service (SVR), was held in secret but journalists were allowed in to hear the court's final judgment.

"Poteyev deserted, leaving first for Belarus on his foreign passport and then with the help of the American special services he travelled to Germany, and from there to the United States, where he is hiding to this day," the court found.

Russian media first identified Poteyev, 59, as the man who betrayed the illegals in November. An initial report named a Colonel Shcherbakov as the culprit and an assassin was said to have been sent on his trail. However, intelligence sources then said that Poteyev, who had been deputy head of the US section of the SVR's S directorate, was responsible.

During the trial Chapman identified Poteyev as one of her handlers.