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Land of the free: 4 best-known modern cases of Russians behind bars in the US

Land of the free: 4 best-known modern cases of Russians behind bars in the US
As Moscow blasts Washington for “systematically violating” the rights of Russian detainees and inmates, RT takes a look at some of the high-profile cases of Russians landing behind bars in the US.

Around 100 Russian nationals are kept behind bars in American prisons and detention centers, according to Russian envoy to the US, Anatoly Antonov. The rights of Russian inmates and detainees are “systematically violated,” the official told reporters. He cited the denial of medical assistance, unwarranted solitary confinement and psychological pressure among the alleged violations.

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The cases of Russians arrested all over the world and extradited to the US have become hot-button issues among the two nations. RT looks at the most famous instances when Russian nationals were prosecuted in America.

1. Viktor Bout

The US accused an army translator-turned-businessman Viktor Bout of being an international arms dealer. In 2008, he was lured in Thailand and arrested during a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation. Bout was eventually extradited to the US where, in 2012, he was jailed for 25 years for allegedly attempting to sell air defense missiles and other weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Bout denied all charges, insisting that he only ran an air transportation company. He further said that he was unlawfully prosecuted merely because he had refused “to cooperate with the US secret services” and the allegations against him were brought about due to the “unfair competition from the Western companies, controlled by the CIA.” His lawyers also argued that the government’s star witness was a British-born businessman Andrew Smulian who became a DEA informant and got a five-year sentence in the same case. Bout’s appeal for a retrial was denied.

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Moscow expressed concerns that the inmate was subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and blasted such harsh treatment as “unreasonable and unacceptable.”“There is absolutely no need for that,” senior Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Dolgov stressed in 2016. “Even the prison staffers themselves admit that [Bout] poses no danger and his behavior is more than adequate.”

2. Konstantin Yaroshenko

Just like Bout, Yaroshenko, a cargo pilot, was captured during a DEA sting. In a 2010 stunt, dubbed Operation Relentless, he was apprehended in Monrovia, the capital of the West African nation of Liberia and handed over to the US. Yaroshenko was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in jail for allegedly participating in a plot to smuggle cocaine into the US and other markets.

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He denied all charges while his lawyers argued that the prosecution withheld crucial evidence from the defense and the jury. The pilot’s appeal for a retrial was rejected. Konstantin’s wife, Viktoria, later claimed that the US authorities offered his family permanent residency in the US in exchange for testifying against Viktor Bout – a deal he had rejected.

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Russia dismissed the Yaroshenko case as “political” and labelled his extradition a “kidnapping” since its diplomats weren’t duly notified of the Russian national’s arrest. Officials in Moscow also said that the US authorities exerted the pilot’s testimony through “torture and other inhumane treatment” while in custody. In a rare interview, published in February, the inmate said that his health deteriorated rapidly and he was denied medical assistance. He said he lost 10 teeth, some of which “have been kicked out” by the DEA agents, while others were lost to poor food and bad dentist work. “Every time I eat, I’m afraid to choke,” Yaroshenko said, referring to his digestive condition.

3. Maria Butina

A Russian-born gun rights advocate, Butina was detained in July 2018 and accused of secretly working for the Kremlin in the middle of a nationwide hunt for ‘Russian agents’ after the 2016 presidential election campaign. She initially denied the accusations. After spending several months in solitary confinement, Butina entered a plea deal, admitting to conspiracy to act as “an agent of a foreign government” without required registration, as she was attending the National Rifle Association (NRA) events and seeking to establish ties with influential Americans.

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The Russian foreign minister described the conditions Butina was kept in as “a kind of torture.” She was frequently deprived of sleep, her lawyer said, while the Russian embassy said that the woman was subjected to unwarranted strip searches. The woman’s father noted that the harsh treatment in jail “had a negative impact on her mental and physical condition.”

4. The hunt for ‘Russian hackers’

In recent years, the US has arrested a number of Russian programmers in various corners of the world over cybercrime charges. One of them Roman Seleznyov, the son of Russian MP Valery Seleznyov, was arrested as he was vacationing in the Maldives in 2014. He was accused of bank fraud, obtaining information from protected computerized cash registers and aggravated identity theft.

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Having initially denied all charges, Seleznyov pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and received 27 and 14 years in prison in two separate cases. Both sentences will run concurrently. Just as in other similar instances, Moscow strongly protested the man’s extradition to the US. His lawyer, in turn, protested the fact that Seleznyov was held in prison before trial. “This case does not involve an act of terrorism. It does not involve an act of war,” he said at the time.

In a similar case, Pyotr Levashov was accused in the US of managing a botnet, and another programmer, Stanislav Lisov was suspected by the FBI of creating a banking trojan that defrauded thousands of people. Both men were extradited to the US from Spain earlier this year.

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