On June 17, the Khimki City Court in Russia announced it had sentenced United States citizen Marc Fogel to 14 years in a high-security penal colony for “large-scale” smuggling of cannabis. According to the report, the former diplomat was detained for possessing illegal drugs in Sheremetyevo on August 15, 2021, upon arrival from a flight from New York.
“During customs checks, the marijuana and hash oil was found in his luggage,” Russian officials said, emphasizing that the drugs were hidden inside the e-cigarette cartridges and contact lens cases. As a result, he was charged with smuggling, illegally acquiring, storing, and transporting illegal substances.
“On June 16, 2022, the Khimki City Court of the Moscow region found U.S. citizen Marc Fogel guilty of committing crimes under Part 3 of Article 229.1 (drug smuggling), Part 2 of Article 228 (illegal acquisition, possession, transportation, manufacture, and processing of narcotic drugs) of the Russian Criminal Code,” the Russian court said.
“(The court) sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment to be served in a high-security penal colony.”
Fogel was a former employee of the US diplomatic mission in Moscow and was working as a teacher at the Anglo-American School in Moscow. He and his wife enjoyed diplomatic status until May 2021.
One theory during the Russian investigation suggested that Fogel used his diplomatic status to smuggle drugs into Russia and distribute it at a drug ring inside the Anglo-American School. The court noted that Fogel pleaded guilty in full. Russian police released footage of a search operation done at the Anglo-American School, managed by the American, British, and Canadian embassies in Moscow.
According to his lawyers, Fogel, now in his 60s, was caught with less than an ounce of cannabis in his luggage when he was arrested at Sheremetyevo airport. Moscow authorities have not yet commented on the cannabis he was caught with, but Russian legislation defines a “large amount” of marijuana to be over 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Fogel claimed that a doctor prescribed the marijuana the Russian authorities found for medical reasons after recently having surgery on his spine. However, he was quoted admitting that he was not aware of Russian legislation that prohibits the use of cannabis, even for medical purposes.
The US teacher was sentenced two days after the same Russian court postponed the trial for US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who was convicted under a similar marijuana-related case to Fogel.
Griner was arrested last February at an airport in Moscow after a scan of her luggage revealed e-cigarette cartridges containing hemp oil. The women’s basketball star, who once played for a professional team in Russia, may face up to 10 years behind bars for carrying illegal drugs. Griner pleaded not guilty, and the Biden Administration has already designated her as “wrongfully detained.”
Americans Locked Up In Russia
Fogel is one of many cases of American citizens being kept behind bars in Russia following criminal charges according to their families, friends, and sometimes even the US government.
Former US Marine Paul Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in jail in May 2020 by another court in Moscow on espionage charges. However, his trial was primarily branded as a sham as the Russian courts presented “secret evidence” against Whelan and did not give appropriate allowances for defense witnesses. Whelan, in his 50s, is serving his sentence at Correctional Colony No. 17, in the far-off region of Mordovia, historically known for being one of Russia’s most hostile incarceration facilities and Soviet-era labor camps.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed through a tweet that the US Embassy visited Paul Whelan last June 18:
“Consular officers from @USEmbRu visited wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan today at IK17. Paul’s resiliency throughout his nearly 3.5 years of detention by Russia is remarkable. We will never stop advocating for his release,” he tweeted.
The US government condemned his trial as a “mockery of justice.” Whelan rejected the charges against him and claimed that his prison guards mistreated him. Reports reveal several attempts to swap the former Marine with two Russians – a drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko and illegal arms dealer Viktor Bout, both serving lengthy sentences in the US.
Another former Marine, Trevor Reed, was detained by Russian authorities for three years before his release this April. Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020 after an altercation with two Russian police officers in 2019, a story he denied.
Reed was released thanks to “months and months” of work done by the United States government. The former marine was released through a prisoner swap. He was exchanged with drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko.
“This is a tough call for a President. President Biden made it to bring home an American whose health was a source of intense concern, and to deliver on his commitment to resolve these hard cases and reunite Americans with their loved ones,” a senior Biden administration official said.
A few days ago, SOFREP reported that pro-Ukraine International Foreign Legion members, American citizens, and former US servicemen Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh were captured by pro-Russian forces after an encounter some 30 miles northeast of Kharkiv. Another American volunteer, Grady Kurpasi, is still missing in Ukraine, but many believe the Russian troops have captured him. In a statement by Russia’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, he stated that these two confirmed captured American fighters were “mercenaries” as they were not part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. This is a lie as they are part of the Ukrainian International Legion.
“They are not [part of the] a Ukrainian army, they are not a subject to [the] Geneva Convention,” Peskov stated when asked regarding what crimes the Americans committed in Ukraine.
With the diplomatic relations between the US and Russia seemingly going sour as the US continues to support Ukraine, many fear that the Americans currently in Russian and pro-Russian hands can potentially be used as pawns for Putin to obtain concessions from its economic sanctions. Furthermore, analysts also fear that the captured Americans fighting for Ukraine may be subject to pro-Russian kangaroo courts, leaving them highly vulnerable to sham trials.