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20 Jul, 2010 06:40

US “kidnaps” Russian pilot over alleged drug trafficking

US “kidnaps” Russian pilot over alleged drug trafficking

The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry has sent an official note of protest to the US State Department after American agents detained a Russian citizen in Liberia and secretly transported him to the United States.

The Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, is suspected in the US of attempting to bribe Liberian officials and smuggle cocaine. On May 28, the 41-year-old was detained by American Special Forces in a hotel in the Liberian capital of Monrovia and later transferred to the US where he is currently kept in a prison in Manhattan, New York.

The Russian Foreign Ministry “pointed out that it was unacceptable that the Russian side had not received proper notification on the arrest of our fellow citizen as is prescribed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the bilateral consular convention,” said the Russian Consul General in New York, Andrey Yushmanov, cites Interfax agency.

According to the diplomat, Moscow learned about Yaroshenko’s fate from his family.

“We also notified that the conditions in which our citizen was held were beyond all ethical norms and were unacceptable,
” he said. So far, no reaction from the State Department has followed.

Yaroshenko was denied water and food – lawyer

For several years, Yaroshenko was working in Africa on old Soviet Antonov An-12 and An-32 aircraft as a charter pilot, writes Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily. According his wife Viktoria, on May 28 he arrived in Monrovia to sign a new contract.

“He called me from there and said that he was not happy with the conditions of the agreement,” she told the paper. Her husband also said that the clients behaved in a very suspicious way and that he was going to go back home.

The pilot’s lawyer, Aleksandr Bozhenko, said he was not aware of who exactly those people Yaroshenko met were. “Most likely, they were employers who found Konstantin via the Internet,” he told Kommersant newspaper.

The pilot was arrested on the day of his arrival. Citing his client, Bozhenko said that Yaroshenko was detained in a hotel by unknown people wearing no uniform: six African and European looking men. They took all his personal belongings and kept the man in handcuffs.

“Konstantin says that for two days he was given neither water nor food,” Bozhenko said. Moreover the pilot was beaten up and made to sign some papers. On the third day he was taken to an airport and put onboard a plane. “He was not informed of the destination of the aircraft,” the lawyer said. Upon arrival, Yaroshenko said he was taken to prison and kept in a lock-up. Only some time later, on the way to the court for the Southern District of New York, he was informed on his whereabouts.

Pilot may face up to life imprisonment

According to the Manhattan Attorney Office’s statement released on June 1, Yaroshenko “transported thousand-kilogram quantities of cocaine throughout South America, Africa, and Europe.” All in all, the statement reads, as a result of “Operation Relentless”, eight people were detained “for conspiring to use Liberia as staging area for the distribution of more than $100 million worth of cocaine.”

“Since in or about 2007, the defendants have attempted to bribe high-level officials in the Liberian Government in order to protect shipments of vast quantities of cocaine, and to use Liberia as a trans-shipment point for further distribution of cocaine in Africa and Europe,” the prosecutors claim.

The defendants “are charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, knowing or intending that the cocaine would be imported into the United States”.

The operation was carried out jointly by the US and Liberian special services.

According to US lawyers, if found guilty, Yaroshenko may face life imprisonment; or, if things go well, up to 40 years behind bars.

“Charges are absurd”

Meanwhile, RIA Novosti writes, citing Bozhenko,the charges against the Russian pilot are absurd, his client had never been to the US and has never taken part in drug trafficking. He showed Yaroshenko’s passport of 2008 which has no stamps showing that the man had ever crossed American border. The lawyer said that it was impossible to present the pilot’s new passport since after the arrest it was confiscated along with other personal possessions including mobile phones.

Earlier, Vesti FM radio station cites, the pilot’s wife was contacted by phone by a person who called himself Sam Schmidt and said he was representing her husband’s interests in the US.

Viktoria Yaroshenko appealed to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department, as well as to the presidents of both states, asking to return her Konstantin to Russia, writes Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Currently, Yaroshenko is receiving all necessary consular assistance, Russia's Consul General in New York Andrey Yushmanov told Itar-Tass. He said that the man was previously dissatisfied with his American lawyer.

“We recommended him several lawyers, and now they are contacting Yaroshenko's relatives to choose who will represent his interests and what will be the line of defense,” he said.

Natalia Makarova, RT