Another American Detained in Russia on Drug Charges

June 12, 2023

American Travis Leake was detained and arrested on drug charges, the Khamovniki District Court of Moscow said on Telegram over the weekend.

Leake, who has been working as a musician and rock band manager, said on Russian state media, “I don’t understand why I’m here. I do not admit my guilt. I do not believe that I could have done what I am accused of, because I do not know what I am accused of.”

The 51-year-old has lived in Russia for more than a decade. Russian authorities said he was arrested during a drug raid on Saturday for selling mephedrone, the effects of which are similar to those of cocaine and ecstasy, and that a court in Moscow has ordered for him to be held for two months in pre-trial detention.

Leake’s arrest follows that of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested last August at a Moscow airport for possessing less than one ounce of cannabis oil in a vape canister found in her luggage.

Initially sentenced to nine years in prison, the U.S. State Department secured her release in December in a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Leake’s mother, Glenda Garcia, said Sunday she had not yet heard from the State Department regarding her son’s situation, adding that if she did not hear from them by Monday, she would try to call them herself. 

“Of course, I am worried. Of course, I am concerned, ” she added. “He’s in prison in a foreign country, that is a concern.”

Leake’s arrest comes as the State Department is working to secure the release of American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in March in Russia on espionage charges, and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is was arrested in 2018 and is serving 16 years in a Russian penal colony on charges of spying.

Both Gershkovich and Whelan have been designated as  “wrongfully detained,” which shifted their cases to a specialized State Department section, called the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. That office is focused on negotiating for the release of captives.

Regarding Leake’s case, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said officials were aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in Moscow, adding that the department “has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad.” The spokesperson declined to provide further details, citing privacy considerations.

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