Moscow Court Finds American Student Guilty of Smuggling

A Moscow district court convicted an American student on smuggling charges Friday, then gave him a six-month suspended prison sentence.

Andrew Okhotin, 28, who attends Harvard Divinity School, was found guilty of attempting to smuggle $48,000 into the country. Okhotin, a Baptist missionary, said the money was charitable donations for Baptist churches in Russia.

He faces six months in a Russian jail if he commits any other crime in Russia within that time period.

The trial, which started in Moscow's Golovinsky district court on August 13, ended on Friday when the court reconvened to read the verdict.

Okhotin received the minimum penalty for a smuggling conviction. He could have faced face up to five years in prison.

The $48,000 in cash, seized by customs officials, was confiscated and would remain in Russia's state coffers, the court said.

"It's outrageous," said Andrew Okhotin, commenting on the verdict. He told the investigation and court proceedings amounted to little more than dirty tricks.

"We will definitely file an appeal with the Moscow City court," Vladimir Ryakhovsky told Ryakhovsky is an attorney with the Slavic Center for Law and Justice who is representing Okhotin. "I'm deeply convinced that Andrew is not guilty of smuggling," he said.

Okhotin was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo 2 International Airport on March 29. He said he was delivering the cash donations to the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists in Russia when he was detained by customs officials, who seized the money.

During his testimony, Okhotin said he made no attempt to conceal the cash. He said he mistakenly entered Sheremetyevo's green customs corridor, which is for people with nothing to declare - instead of the red customs corridor.

Furthermore, Okhotin said he had declared the cash on a customs form, and he presented the paper to customs agents at their request.

According to prosecutors, Okhotin refused to tell officials how much money he was bringing in and he allegedly resisted requests to inspect his luggage. Prosecutors argued that Okhotin was instantly guilty of smuggling when he entered the "green" customs corridor instead of the "red" corridor, which is for visitors with items to declare.

Okhotin claimed that a customs official tried to extort a $10,000 bribe from him in exchange for letting him go, but he refused to pay. Okhotin's lawyers also argued that there is nothing illegal about bringing large sums of money into Russia.

"The verdict came as a cover-up, since our testimony regarding the extortion attempts was ignored by the court," Okhotin told He said the court relied entirely on the prosecution 's interpretation of the events.

"The verdict was announced five hours later than expected and the judge held private discussions with a representative of Russian customs before the announcement," Okhotin said. "These details tell a lot about the Russian legal system," he added.

Russain law places no limit on the amount of money that can be brought into the country, but anything over $10,000 must be declared. A person cannot be convicted of smuggling unless criminal intent is proven, something that the prosecution has failed to do, according to Okhotin's defense lawyers.

During the trial, prosecutors recommended a six-month suspended sentence for Okhotin. Okhotin and his defense lawyers interpreted the request as an acknowledgement that the prosecution did not have much of a case.

Ryakhovsky told that the Moscow City court would review Okhotin's appeal within the next month. He also said that under the terms of the suspended sentence, Okhotin is now free to leave Russia.

"If I leave the country now I'm unlikely to get an entry visa any time soon," Okhotin said. He added that he is reluctant to leave the Russian Federation before the guilty verdict is annulled.