Moscow court convicts Andrew Okhotin of attempted smuggling
The good news is that Harvard Divinity School student and Baptist youth pastor Andrew Okhotin is free to leave Russia and will not be imprisoned on apparently trumped up smuggling charges. The bad news is that he isn't free to leave Russia with the $48,000 he brought into the country for local churches.
In late March, Okhotin arrived in Moscow with the money, a gift from American churches to the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists in Russia. Giving money to Baptist churches is not a crime. Bringing $48,000 into Russia is not a crime. But Okhotin, confused in part by instructions from an airline attendant, accidentally chose the green "nothing to declare" corridor at the Moscow airport instead of the red corridor.
Okhotin says he wasn't trying to avoid the correct customs corridor—he had his paperwork filled out, and expected to have it stamped. Indeed, when customs agents approached him, he handed the paperwork over and answered their questions.
But Friday, a Moscow court said he was acting "secretly" and that his "being afraid" was evidence that he was trying to commit a crime.
"The court does not trust the testimony of the defendant, and believes that his statements were made with the goal of avoiding punishment for a crime and ensuring the return of the smuggled money," Judge Igor Yakovlev said. "The government has to control all the money that's brought into the country… . Because Okhotin was trying to hide the money, his actions were against the economic interests of the Russian Federation."
The real crime, says Okhotin and his supporters, is that the custom agents demanded a $10,000 bribe—a charge Yakovlev didn't even address in his ...1
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