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Moscow accuses U.S. authorities of kidnapping Russian citizen

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: K.V. Yaroshenko, a Russian citizen, faces a possible lifetime U.S. prison sentence
  • Yaroshenko was detained in Liberia in late May as part of U.S. anti-drug efforts
  • Moscow contends U.S. officials kidnapped Yaroshenko, violating international law
  • Yaroshenko has been granted consular access, the U.S. State Department says

(CNN) -- Russian authorities are accusing U.S. officials of illegally detaining a Russian citizen as part of American efforts to clamp down on drug trafficking, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

K.V. Yaroshenko was detained by U.S. "anti-drug officials together with local police" in Liberia on May 28, and is now in a New York prison, the statement said. The apprehension and incarceration of Yaroshenko "directly violate norms of international law," it said.

Yaroshenko is one of five defendants arrested in late May under a Drug Enforcement Administration operation designed in part to stem the shipment of cocaine from West Africa, according to a June 1 U.S. Justice Department news release. Justice officials have described Yaroshenko, 41, as an "aircraft pilot and aviation transport expert who transported thousand-kilogram quantities of cocaine throughout South America, Africa, and Europe."

The Foreign Ministry's statement alleges that American officials failed to notify Russian diplomats of Yaroshenko's apprehension.

"We are talking about kidnapping of a Russian citizen on the territory of a third country," the statement said. "The actions of the U.S. special services at forcibly and secretly transferring of our citizen from Monrovia to New York can be qualified as outright lawlessness."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Tuesday that Yaroshenko had been given consular access after being brought to New York. He declined to comment further about the case.

The Russian statement said that Moscow is "closely watching developments in this case, as well as whether [Yaroshenko's] human rights are observed during the investigation conducted by the American authorities." It noted that Yaroshenko's relatives had "found him an experienced local Russian-speaking lawyer who specializes in criminal cases."

Russian authorities have reached out to their American counterparts on three occasions -- both in writing and in person -- seeking information about the case and criticizing American actions, according to the statement.

During a July 8 meeting between Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, "it was emphasized that [the] procedural rights of our citizen should be strictly observed," the statement said.

"It was also pointed out that while the U.S. State Department in its reports is teaching the entire world how it should observe human rights, the American special services abroad are getting themselves involved in actual abductions of people."

Yaroshenko, along with the four other defendants, has been charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess cocaine, knowing that it will be imported into the United States, according to the Justice Department. The offense carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report