A Moscow court has sentenced a former US diplomat to 14 years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling, the latest American to be caught in Russia’s justice system.
Russia and the United States regularly clash over the detention of their respective citizens and sometimes swap them in scenes reminiscent of the Cold War.
The condemnation comes as relations between Moscow and the West, particularly Washington, are strained after Moscow began its military operation in pro-Western Ukraine.
“US citizen (Marc) Fogel has been found guilty,” the Khimki court said in a statement on Thursday.
He said Fogel committed “large-scale drug trafficking” by crossing the Russian border, as well as “large-scale illegal storage of drugs without commercial purpose”.
Russian authorities said in January that Fogel was detained by customs officers after he arrived from New York with his wife at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
“During customs checks, marijuana and hash oil were found in his luggage,” officials said, adding that the drugs were hidden in contact lens cases and e-cigarette cartridges.
The incident happened in August 2021.
Fogel, who worked as a teacher at the Anglo-American School in Moscow, insisted the marijuana was for medical purposes and was prescribed in the United States after spinal surgery.
Russia has not legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes.
Russian officials say Fogel was employed at the US Embassy in Moscow and enjoyed diplomatic immunity until May 2021.
Several Americans are currently being held in Russian prisons, and vice versa.
In April, the United States exchanged former American sailor Trevor Reed, sentenced by a Russian court to nine years in prison for violence, for a Russian pilot who has been incarcerated in the United States since 2010.
And American basketball star Brittney Griner is currently in pre-trial detention in a Russian prison for drug trafficking.
Griner’s detention came days before Russia defied US warnings and sent troops to Ukraine in late February.
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