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Russia accuses American teacher of being "large scale" drug smuggler almost half a year after detaining him

A screengrab from video released by Russia's Interior Ministry shows U.S. national Marc Fogel sitting in a security screening area at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he was detained in August 2021 after marijuana was allegedly found in his luggage. Russian Interior Ministry/Handout

Moscow — Russian authorities have, for the first time, shared details of a criminal case against an American man who's been jailed since his detention in Moscow last summer. Russia's Interior Ministry said on Thursday that Marc Fogel, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in August 2021, was accused of attempting to smuggle marijuana into the country in his luggage. 

The ministry said in a statement that "Fogel turned out to be a teacher at the Anglo-American school, and was previously an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow," adding that he and his wife held diplomatic status until May 2021.

"The drugs were carefully disguised: marijuana was packaged in contact lens case, and cannabis oil was contained in e-cigarette cartridges. All of it was wrapped in plastic and hidden in his sneakers," the statement says.

Fogel is charged with smuggling and possession of "narcotic substances on a large scale" — a serious charge for which he could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Government investigators petitioned the court to arrest the American, arguing that he could attempt to seek refuge on the territory of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. They also alleged that Fogel could have used his diplomatic status to organize a drug smuggling route into the country "for the purpose of subsequent sale among the students of the aforementioned school."

Fogel told a group of human rights lawyers who visited him in December that he used marijuana for medical reasons after undergoing surgery on his spine.

"He insists that it was medical marijuana and claims that a doctor prescribed it to him in the United States, which is allegedly confirmed by an entry in the medical record," Alexander Khurudzhi, a member of a Moscow human rights committee, told Russia's Interfax news agency at the time. 

"He claims he was unaware of Russia's ban on medical marijuana," Khurudhzi said.

Fogel told the lawyers in December that he brought around 17 grams, or just over half an ounce, of marijuana with him to Russia.

The Interior Ministry has not specified the amount that Fogel is accused of carrying, but Russian law defines a "large amount" of marijuana to be 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) or more. Anything between 6-100 grams is classified as a "significant amount," the possession of which carries a much shorter jail sentence and, in some cases, the punishment is reduced to a fine.

"We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time," U.S. Embassy spokesperson Jason Rebholz said on Thursday, according to Interfax.

The embassy did not elaborate on Fogel's case, or on his diplomatic status, which he may have held as a member of staff at the school that was previously run by the U.S. Embassy.  

U.S. and NATO formally respond to Russian demands on Ukraine amid escalating military tensions 02:21

It was not clear why the Interior Ministry released details of Fogel's case this week, but he's among a handful of U.S. citizens being held on various charges in Russia as the two countries face off over troop buildups on Ukraine's borders.

American officials have accused Moscow of holding two former U.S. Marines as bargaining chips to use in a potential prisoner swap: Trevor Reed, who was charged with attacking police officers, and Paul Whelan, who is jailed after being convicted on espionage charges.

Moscow publicly denies any discussions with the U.S. about a theoretical prisoner exchanger, but it has long sought the release of Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer nicknamed the "Merchant of Death," and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot convicted of smuggling cocaine into the U.S. 

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