With the spotlight on the case of Brittney Griner, the American basketball star who has been detained in Russia since February, the sentencing of a former U.S. diplomat in Russia last month on similar drug charges has his loved ones also pleading for him to be allowed to return home.
Marc Fogel, an English teacher who had previously worked for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was convicted of drug smuggling, according to his family and Russian news outlets. He was sentenced in June — by the same court that is handling Ms. Griner’s case — to 14 years in a high-security penal colony.
Mr. Fogel, 60, worked at the Anglo-American School of Moscow and was arrested in August when customs officers at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow found marijuana in his luggage after he arrived from New York. The cannabis, according to a statement from the Russian Interior Ministry, had been packaged in a container carrying contact lenses, and cannabis oil was also found in e-cigarette cartridges.
In a statement shared by Mr. Fogel’s wife, Jane, his family said that he had been carrying less than 20 grams of marijuana, which they said had been recommended to him by a doctor in the United States to help treat a long-term, debilitating spinal condition.
Mr. Fogel pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling and illegally possessing, transporting and producing drugs, according to the family statement, which called the 14-year sentence “grossly disproportionate” compared with other Russian court cases involving similar quantities of marijuana.
Russia’s Interior Ministry has said that Mr. Fogel and his wife had diplomatic status until May 2021, and that Mr. Fogel could have used that status to open a drug-smuggling route into Moscow. The statement from his family called those allegations “outrageous and blatantly false” and said that Mr. Fogel had “an exemplary track record as a teacher.”
“It is clear that Marc is the victim of a politically motivated prosecution designed to stimulate anti-American xenophobia among the Russian population,” it added.
Mr. Fogel has not had consular access since November, according to the family statement. It said he had since been diagnosed with anxiety and depression during his detention, and it accused the Russian authorities of ignoring repeated requests by Mr. Fogel for medical assistance. Although Mr. Fogel’s Russian lawyer had requested medical records from his detention facility, they were told that none exist, the statement said.
Unlike in Ms. Griner’s case, the Biden administration has not publicly classified Mr. Fogel as “wrongfully detained,” a designation that would move his case under the supervision of the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
A spokesperson for the State Department said in an email that U.S. officials were aware of and monitoring the detention of an American citizen in Russia, but they declined to comment further, citing privacy concerns.
Speaking outside the courtroom where Ms. Griner’s trial was taking place on Thursday, Elizabeth Rood, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said the Biden administration was committed to bringing home “all U.S. citizens wrongfully detained.” Ms. Rood made no specific mention of Mr. Fogel, and U.S. officials have not commented publicly on his sentencing.