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With the spotlight on the case of Brittney Griner, the American basketball star who has been detained in Russia since February, the conviction of a former employee of the American embassy in Russia last month on similar drug charges has his relatives pleading also for him to be allowed to go home.
Marc Fogel, a teacher who previously worked for the US Embassy in Moscow, was convicted of drug trafficking, according to his family and Russian news organizations. He was sentenced in June – by the same court handling Ms Griner’s case – to 14 years in a high-security penal colony.
Mr Fogel, 60, worked at the Anglo-American School in Moscow and was arrested in August when customs officers at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport found marijuana in his luggage after arriving from New York. The cannabis, according to a statement from the Russian Interior Ministry, had been packed in a container containing contact lenses, and cannabis oil was also found in e-cigarette cartridges.
In a statement shared by Mr Fogel’s wife, Jane, his family said he was carrying less than 20 grams of marijuana, which they say was recommended to him by a doctor in the United States to help treat a long-term, debilitating spinal condition.
Mr Fogel pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling and illegal possession, transportation and production of drugs, according to the family statement, which called the 14-year sentence ‘grossly disproportionate’ to others Russian court cases involving similar amounts of marijuana.
The Russian Interior Ministry said Mr. Fogel and his wife had diplomatic status until May 2021 and that Mr. Fogel could have used that status to open a drug smuggling route to Moscow. His family’s statement called the allegations “outrageous and patently untrue” and said Mr Fogel had “an exemplary record as a teacher”.
“It is clear that Marc is the victim of a politically motivated prosecution aimed at stimulating anti-American xenophobia among the Russian population,” he added.
Mr. Fogel has not had consular access since November, according to the family statement. He said he had since been diagnosed with anxiety and depression while in custody, and he accused Russian authorities of ignoring Mr Fogel’s repeated requests for medical assistance. Although Mr Fogel’s Russian lawyer requested medical records from his detention center, they were told none existed, the statement said.
Unlike Ms. Griner’s case, the Biden administration has not publicly classified Mr. Fogel as “wrongfully detained,” a designation that would move his case under the supervision of the presidential special envoy for hostage affairs.
A State Department spokesperson said in an email that US officials were aware of and monitoring the detention of a US citizen in Russia, but declined to comment further, citing confidentiality concerns.
Speaking outside the courtroom where Ms Griner’s trial was taking place on Thursday, Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Moscow, said the Biden administration was committed to bringing back at home “all American citizens wrongfully detained”. Ms. Rood made no specific mention of Mr. Fogel, and US officials have not commented publicly on his sentencing.