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U.S. Teacher Held in Russia for 'Large Scale' Drug Smuggling

Alexander Avilov / Moskva News Agency

A U.S. teacher was arrested in a Moscow airport with marijuana and is being held for "large scale" drug smuggling, Russian authorities said on Thursday amid soaring tensions with Washington.

Marc Fogel was detained while passing through customs when trained dogs reacted to his luggage, the Interior Ministry said.

"Marijuana and hash oil were found in the foreigner's luggage. The drugs were carefully disguised," it said in a statement.

Marijuana was hidden in contact lens cases, while cannabis oil was found in e-cigarette cartridges, the statement said.

Fogel, who was reportedly detained in August, enjoyed diplomatic immunity before May last year, the Russian Interior Ministry said. 

At the time of his arrest he taught at the Anglo-American School of Moscow, the statement said.

Fogel could have used his diplomatic immunity to smuggle drugs into Russia and distribute them among students at the Moscow school where he taught, it said.

Fogel has been charged with "large-scale smuggling and possession of drugs," the statement said. A court outside Moscow ordered his arrest to prevent him from fleeing the country.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement to AFP: "We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad, and are monitoring the situation."

The mission refused to provide further comment, citing privacy considerations.

The Anglo-American School of Moscow did not provide an immediate comment when contacted by AFP.

Several Americans are currently being held in Russian prisons.

The most prominent U.S. citizen in Russian custody is Paul Whelan, a former security officer at an auto parts company who was arrested in 2018 on charges of espionage.

Trevor Reed is a former U.S. marine, who was arrested in 2019 for a drunken brawl in which he is accused of punching two Russian police officers.

Russian authorities have offered to swap U.S. prisoners for Russians held in American jails including contract pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko who was convicted in 2011 of smuggling drugs into the United States.

Tensions between Russia and the United States are soaring, with Washington accusing Moscow of plotting to invade Ukraine and the Kremlin demanding NATO halt its eastern expansion.

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