Skip to main content

U.S. officials contact wrong embassy about Russian citizen's detention

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Russian officials were not granted immediate access to a Russian citizen in U.S. custody
  • U.S. officials notified the wrong embassy about K.V. Yaroshenko's detention
  • 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

(CNN) -- Russian officials did not receive immediate consular access to a Russian citizen now in American custody because U.S. officials notified the wrong embassy, a State Department spokesman said Thursday.

K.V. Yaroshenko is one of five defendants arrested in late May in Liberia under a Drug Enforcement Administration operation designed in part to stem the shipment of cocaine from West Africa, according to a 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." He is currently in a New York prison.

"We tried to do everything we were supposed to do," a senior administration official said. "They just pressed the wrong button on the fax machine and sent it to different embassy. ... They aimed for the Russia button. They hit a different button."

There was a "process failure," the official said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. government has apologized to Moscow. "Normally, we try to arrange these consular notifications within 72 hours," he said. "We didn't discover our error until it was after that period of time."

Russian officials have argued that Yaroshenko's apprehension and incarceration "directly violate norms of international law."

"We are talking about kidnapping of a Russian citizen on the territory of a third country," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said this week. "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."

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 Jill Dougherty, Alan Silverleib and Adam Levine contributed to this report.