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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Russian citizen whom U.S. authorities accused of posing as a banker while participating in a New York City spy ring that sought to collect economic and other intelligence pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge on Friday.
Evgeny Buryakov, 41, admitted in federal court in Manhattan to acting as an agent for the Russian government without notifying U.S. authorities.
"I would take certain actions" at the direction of a Russian trade representative, he said. Prosecutors said the representative was also an officer of the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the case showed that "more than two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russian spies still seek to operate in our midst under the cover of secrecy."
Under a plea deal announced on Friday, less than a month before Buryakov was set to face trial, prosecutors said they agreed to seek only 2-1/2 years in prison, for which he would receive credit for the year-plus already spent in custody.
Buryakov's lawyer, Scott Hershman, declined to comment. The Russian Consulate-General in New York did not respond to a request for comment.
Buryakov, who worked at Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, was arrested in January 2015 as U.S. authorities unveiled charges against him and two other Russians, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy.
Sporyshev officially worked as a Russian trade representative, while Podobnyy served as an attaché to the country's mission to the United Nations. Prosecutors said they also worked as SVR officers.
U.S. prosecutors said the trio conspired to gather economic intelligence on behalf of Russia, including information about U.S. sanctions against the country, and to recruit New York City residents as intelligence sources.
On Friday, Buryakov admitted he participated in a May 2013 call with Sporyshev "about information that Mr. Sporyshev wanted."
Prosecutors said on that call, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded, Buryakov helped formulate questions meant for intelligence-gathering purposes to put to the New York Stock Exchange.
The questions involved exchange traded funds, including the "mechanisms of their use to destabilize the market" and the "curbing of trading robot activities," prosecutors said.
The queries were submitted to the NYSE on July 2013 by a purported ITAR-TASS bureau chief, they said.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Lisa Von Ahn and Richard Chang