Russian pilot lands in US prison, Duma cries foul

The State Duma has expressed its outrage over the arrest and sentencing of a Russian citizen who was arrested overseas and secretly brought to the US to stand trial on drug-related charges.

­Konstantin Yaroshenko was arrested in the Liberian capital of Monrovia in May 2010 then secretly whisked to the United States and imprisoned. Russian diplomats worked overtime on the case, attempting to protect the Russian from what some are calling excessive abuse of judicial powers.

On Wednesday, the fruits of those labors became apparent as Yaroshenko, who pleaded “not guilty” to all charges, was sentenced by a federal court in the southern district of New York to 20 years in prison.

The vice-consul of the Russian Federation in New York, Alexander Otchainov, told reporters at the end of the hearing Russia had not expected such a “harsh decision” from the American court.

Russia’s legal community appears to be stunned by the decision.

“We are not talking about some Guantanamo Bay terrorist suspect here,” commented a Russian lawyer representing a European NGO, who asked not to be named. “We are talking about a citizen of a foreign country who never, as far as I can tell, committed a crime in the US.”

Meanwhile, Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Duma’s international affairs committee, said Russia will conduct a thorough legal assessment of the case.

"From the political point of view a legal assessment of what has happened should follow from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I have no doubt that it will be extremely tough," Kosachev told Itar-Tass.

He said that the Russian deputies understood "how and with what legal violations" the trial of Yaroshenko proceeded, and repeatedly expressed their concerns to the US Congress.

Despite their efforts to contact US judges in a “personal capacity,” the Russian pilot suffered what some experts in the legal community are describing as an extremely harsh sentence.

"The whole set of instruments was employed, but, unfortunately, all efforts were in vain," Kosachev said.

Yaroshenko was convicted of conspiracy to smuggle large quantities of cocaine, part of which was intended to be sold in the United States. Although the drug never reached American soil, the presiding federal judge in the trial, Jed Rakoff, sentenced Yaroshenko to 20 years imprisonment.

Yaroshenko’s lawyer, Stephen Zyss said he intended to appeal the court's decision and will co-operate with the Russian authorities in an effort to secure the freedom of his client.

Kosachev added that the Russian side has very serious concerns over the circumstances of Yaroshenko’s arrest.

"The very principle of the extraterritoriality of US law – stipulating that any person may be arrested in any state – is contrary to international law,” Kosachev pointed out. “The circumstances of the detention of Konstantin Yaroshenko and his keeping in custody in inhumane conditions is also outrageous.”

This represents a clear violation of basic human rights by the American authorities, concluded Kosachev.

He vowed that Moscow that would do everything to “defend [Yaroshenko’s] rights."

The Yaroshenko case is drawing comparisons to the extraterritorial arrest of another Russian citizen, Viktor Bout, who was detained in Thailand in March 2008 in a police operation conducted by Thai and US security agents. Bout, who operated an air cargo business, was accused by US authorities of arms smuggling.

As with Yakoshenko, Bout has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Even before Bout’s arrest, however, his 'legend' inspired the creation of a Hollywood film, Lord of War, played by the famous actor Nicolas Cage.

Despite the daunting challenge of shedding his Hollywood persona, Bout, currently awaiting trial, may have won a “rare pretrial victory” according to an August report in the New York Times.

The US judge presiding over Bout’s pretrial case, Shira A. Schindlein, “credited the defense team’s assertion that the agents had threatened Mr. Bout, insinuating that he would face ‘disease, hunger, heat and rape’ in Thai jails, where he would face abandonment if he failed to co-operate with the American agents,” The Times reported.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it would not ignore the US court decision.

"The US judge's decision to sentence the Russian pilot to 20 years in prison on charges of attempted cocaine trafficking to the US gives rise to most serious questions for us," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said at a press conference in Moscow on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry will continue to provide assistance to Yaroshenko, he said.

Robert Bridge, RT