Son of ex-Russian Railways boss detained over drone launch
A Norwegian court placed 47-year-old Andrey Yakunin in custody for two weeks on Tuesday over allegations that he illegally flew a drone from his luxury yacht. The suspect, who heads the investment company VIYM, is the eldest son of Vladimir Yakunin, the former boss of state-owned Russian Railways.
The alleged drone incident occurred off of the Svalbard archipelago, also known as Spitsbergen. Norwegian police asked the court to detain the offender, citing fears that he might evade investigators and flee the country. During the hearings, Yakunin insisted he was a British citizen and pointed out that he is a permanent resident of Italy.
“The man has Russian and British citizenship and is charged with violating the Sanction Act §4 for flying a drone in Norwegian territory at Svalbard,” police prosecutor Anja Mikkelsen Indbjor told local media.
The luxury boat has been sailing around Svalbard and along the Norwegian coast for several months starting this summer. Despite Yakunin’s insistence on being treated exclusively as a British citizen, the police noted having recovered his Russian passport aboard the vessel.
“The police arrested the man on October 17 in Hammerfest and have seized drones and electronic devices that now are being analyzed,” she added. “The content from the drone is of great importance for the case.”
Yakunin’s defense insisted the drone affair was a pure accident and the defendant was not aware that such activities were somehow regulated. “He admitted flying a drone, but had no reason to believe this was illegal. He is a British citizen,” Yakunin’s lawyer Jens Bernhard Herstad said. “The court order will be appealed.”
Yakunin is the seventh Russian national to end up in legal trouble for flying drones in Norway, according to media reports. Before the suspect’s name was officially confirmed, local media described him only as the son of a “close ally” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this year, Vladimir Yakunin challenged such a definition when he was targeted by Western sanctions over the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. After being slapped by UK sanctions back in April, Yakunin said London had demonstrated “astounding incompetence” in compiling the sanctions lists and had erroneously described him as the head of Russian Railways. “I’ve been retired from this position for seven years now, and I am not engaged in any other state or commercial activity. Anyone with internet access can easily find this information,” the former top executive said.