Suspects in alleged Russia-linked UK arson attack to face trial next year

LONDON (Reuters) - Four men will go on trial next year accused of setting fire to a London commercial property linked to Ukraine, an arson attack allegedly paid for by Russian intelligence, a British court heard on Friday.

They were charged last month over the fire at a commercial premises on an industrial estate in east London in March.

Dylan Earl, 20, who is accused of two offences under the National Security Act, is alleged to have engaged in conduct targeting businesses that were linked to Ukraine in order to benefit the Russian state. The prosecution has not given details of the link between the east London building and Ukraine.

Earl is charged with assisting a foreign intelligence service, and engaging in preparations for "an act endangering life or a person or an act creating a serious risk to the health and safety of the public in the United Kingdom".

Along with three other men, Paul English, 60, and Nii Kojo Menash, 21, and Jake Reeves, 22, Earl is also charged with aggravated arson. Reeves is also accused of accepting a "material benefit" from a foreign intelligence service.

A fifth man, Dmitrijus Paulauskas, has been charged with knowing about terrorist acts but failing to disclose the information to police.

At a brief hearing on Friday at London's Old Bailey Court, with only Earl, who attended by video link, and Paulauskas present, the court was told by judge Jeremy Baker that their trial, expected to last about eight weeks, would take place in June next year.

The next hearing will take place on Oct. 4, and the men, with the exception of Paulauskas, were remanded in custody.

The case was one of those cited by interior minister James Cleverly when he announced on Wednesday that Britain would expel Russia's defence attache, remove diplomatic status from some properties and limit the length of Russian diplomatic visas.

Cleverly said the action was in response to what he called Moscow's "malign activity".

"As has often been the case, the new measures were introduced under a groundless and somewhat ridiculous pretext (in this case - a fire at a warehouse in east London), which is being twisted to invent yet another espionage story," the Russian embassy in London said in a statement.

Along with other Western nations, Britain's relations with Russia have been at their most hostile in decades over Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Frances Kerry)