MOSCOW -- A military court has charged Soviet hockey star Alexander Mogilny with desertion following his defection to the United States to sign a lucrative contract with the Buffalo Sabres, Soviet newspapers said Sunday.
If convicted, the Soviet Union will demand his extradition to serve his sentence, a military prosecutor was quoted as saying. Desertion by an officer during peace time carries a maximum sentence of seven years at hard labor.
Mogilny, considered by some scouts to be the best amateur in his sport, is the first Soviet hockey player to defect to the West.
In Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, Mogilny told a news conference his life has undergone 'great changes' the past week and they 'have been for the better.' He was prevented by Sabres General Manager Gerry Meehan from responding to questions about his defection.
Mogilny arrived in Buffalo Friday and Meehan said the player signed a contract with the club, although no terms were disclosed.
The 20-year-old Soviet officer has been granted a special 'parole' designation, which will allow him time in determining his final immigration status.
Benedict Ferro, district director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the Soviet has not yet sought political asylum.
'He's holding up very well,' said Meehan, who selected Mogilny in the fifth round of the 1988 amateur draft. 'I think his mood is 'Let's get on with this.' He's very upbeat, very positive.'
Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), the official army newspaper, accused the Sabres of 'gangsterism.' The daily Socialist Industry said Meehan, who traveled to Sweden to escort Mogilny to the United States, was guilty of 'underhanded actions.' The paper called Buffalo a 'pirate club'.
'Meehan's statements sounded a lot like the bragging of a horsethief pleased with his good loot,' said the Sovetskaya Rossia paper.
Mogilny said at his news conference he thought about defecting for 'maybe a year' but 'circumstances did not make it possible.' Meehan denies Mogilny was actively recruited to leave the Soviet Union.
The Sovetsky Sport paper said Mogilny telephoned his parents in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk Saturday and told them he would send them money to join him in the United States next month.
However, the paper said his father Gennady, who works for the city's public trasnportation system, has been ordered to Moscow to give evidence in his son's desertion trial, which could start as early as next week.
Krasnaya Zvezda said the player held the rank of second lieutenant and was on active service in the Red Army when he defected in Sweden last week during the World Hockey Championships, won by the Soviets.
'There is no doubt that Mogilny was motivated by base mercantile considerations when he defected from the Soviet team,' Krasnaya Zvezda said. 'He was in no way compelled into disgracing the honor and dignity of an officer and he must be made to answer to that.'
Sovetsky Sport quoted military prosecutor Leonid Obyketov as saying that if found guilty he would demand extradition.
'It seems this whole business is childish,' Obyketov said. 'You have to be more serious about life, army service and your work.'
Krasnaya Zvezda said Mogilny abandoned his fiance. It said their wedding had been scheduled for after the World Championships and invitations had been sent to teammates.
Another woman romantically linked to the Soviet said she met Mogilny last Christmas in Alaska while he was playing at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
'I think he used common sense when he did this (defect),' Tera Harrington, 23, a University of Alaska-Anchorage student told Aftonbladet, a Stockholm newspaper. 'I think he did this because it will help his development as an athlete.'
Mogilny's defection was announced by the Soviet media last Thursday but little mention was made in the press until Sunday when several newspapers branded him a traitor.
The defection is the latest incident to highlight the deepening crisis within Soviet sport about permitting players to sign Western contracts.
Last year the country's governing body of sports agreed to drop the amateur tag on many athletes and has permitted them to sign in the West or accept payment locally from clubs.
However, only one hockey player, Sergei Pryakhin, has been permitted to play in the NHL. He signed with the Calgary Flames earlier this year. Another, Vyacheslav Fetisov, has been barred from signing with the New Jersey Devils by national coach Viktor Tikhonov.
Soviet hockey and soccer players in the first division normally earn between $480 and $640 per month.