politics

The other American imprisoned in Russia for marijuana

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But while the facts of Fogel’s case closely resemble Griner’s, the public response to the two cases has been starkly different. Coming in the weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Griner’s arrest sparked an international outcry, with many observers saying Griner had been taken as a bargaining chip in the increasingly tense confrontation of Russia with the United States. In May, the State Department determined that Griner was “wrongfully detained,” a designation that established the legal basis for her release this week in a one-for-one prisoner exchange for the arms dealer. Russian Viktor Bout.

Fogel, on the other hand, attracted little public attention. The State Department did not grant him “wrongfully detained” status, despite repeated pleas from a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Fogel’s attorneys. (A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on specifics of the Fogel case, saying, “The Department is continually reviewing the circumstances surrounding the detention of U.S. nationals abroad, including those in Russia, at looking for indicators that they are illicit.”) media reports, Fogel’s detention has been overshadowed by coverage of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American businessman and former Marine detained in Russia since 2018 on charges of espionage.

The relative obscurity of Fogel’s case continues to baffle former US government officials who knew Fogel in Moscow.

“It’s a bit of a mystery to me why we [aren’t] talk about three Americans — now, thankfully, two Americans — instead of just one,” said Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, whose son was a student of Fogel’s at the Anglo-American School.

“It wasn’t just some random guy who got arrested – he was part of our community,” McFaul said. “He taught our children, the children of US government officials and he taught the children of our military.”

Now that Griner is freed, pressure is mounting on the Biden administration to turn its attention to Fogel. Thursday, Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) and Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) called on the White House to prioritize Fogel for future prisoner exchanges and reiterated previous requests to the State Department to reclassify Fogel as wrongfully detained. Fogel’s family, meanwhile, has met with senior State Department officials, but they remain largely in the dark about the status of negotiations for Fogel’s release.

“We are not aware of any of this information,” Anne Fogel, Marc’s sister, said in an interview. “They tell us they’re working on it, but we just don’t know.”

During Fogel’s trial in Earlier this year in Moscow, Russian prosecutors painted the Pennsylvania native as a dangerous drug dealer with shady ties to the US government. But Fogel’s resume barely presents a convincing picture of a menacing international criminal.

According to his sister, Fogel and his wife, Jane, had always loved living abroad, and they spent the three decades before Fogel’s arrest traveling the world, teaching at international schools and raising their families. two sons, Sam and Ethan. After stints in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman and Malaysia, the Fogels landed in Moscow in 2012, where Marc had landed a job teaching history at the prestigious Anglo-American School, a private school for diplomats. American and other international political elites.

In late August 2021, the Fogels were returning to Moscow after a visit to their home in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, when Marc was stopped by customs officers at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport – the same airport where, some six months later, Griner would have his initial run-in with the Russian authorities.

In Fogel’s bag, officials found 14 vape cartridges containing hash oil, along with loose marijuana flowers. In total, Fogel’s stash was about 17 grams of cannabis, or less than an ounce.

At trial, the Russian government accused Fogel — who freely admitted to using medical marijuana to manage his chronic pain — of conspiring to distribute the cannabis products. But Fogel’s lawyers say the smuggling charges were completely unsupported by the evidence.

“It makes so little sense when you compare the sentence and the nature of the offense that it can only be explained by politics,” said Tom Firestone, a former legal adviser at the US Embassy in Moscow and a member of Fogel’s legal team. “There are cases of leaders of drug trafficking organizations who receive shorter sentences than Marc. There are murderers who received 10 years.

According to McFaul, Fogel’s arrest is part of Russia’s broader practice of detaining US citizens on false charges, sentencing them to unusually long prison terms, and then using their freedom to obtain the release of prominent Russian nationals. In April this year, for example, the Kremlin secured the release of Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted in 2011 of smuggling more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the United States, in exchange of former US sailor Trevor Reed, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for having a “physical altercation” with a Russian policeman.

“The Russians decided this was the right way to go – arresting someone like Griner as a way to get [Russian nationals] out,” McFaul said. “[Bout’s release] will be a huge win for Putin because they’ve been talking about getting him out for years.

A prisoner exchange is not the only way for the US government to secure the release of Americans imprisoned abroad – the State Department can also request that prisoners be released on humanitarian grounds – but an exchange increasingly looks like Fogel’s best chance to return home, says Firestone. In August, a Russian court denied Fogel’s legal appeal, and a request from the State Department for Russia to release Fogel on humanitarian grounds went unanswered.

“[Griner and Reed] were recovered through prisoner swaps, so if that’s any indication, then I think that’s probably Marc’s best bet too,” Firestone said. “We are worried about him in Russian penal institutions, and we really hope that the administration will do everything possible to bring him home as soon as possible.”

But according to Anne Fogel, State Department officials discouraged Fogel’s family from seeking too aggressively an ‘illegally detained’ designation – without clearly explaining to them why getting the designation isn’t a big step. to secure his release.

“They don’t give us any reason at all,” Anne said. “I think that’s pretty dishonest, frankly.”

Half way to my phone call with Anne, she stopped mid-sentence. She received a call on the other line.

“That’s him on the phone, that’s Marc,” she said. “Let me call you back.”

Ten minutes later – prison calls only last 10 minutes – my phone rang again.

“He tries to stay positive,” Anne said, a now detectable tremor of sadness in her voice. “He said if people talk about it, then maybe it’s okay.”

According to Anne, Fogel was always lucid about his chances of being released before Griner. He knows diplomacy is a messy and uncertain business, she said, and he suspected that, given a choice, the government would press ahead with Griner’s release, even if it meant letting him go. temporarily behind him.

Fogel’s family don’t blame Griner for her freedom, but now that she’s safely home, they want the country to look at Marc the same way they looked at Griner.

“Brittney Griner is just as impressive as Tom Brady, and World World III would have happened had Tom Brady been captured,” Anne said. Her brother, she says, is a star nonetheless: “What I want people to know is that if there was a Hall of Fame for history teachers, it would be there. He is also at the top of his field.

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