FORT DIX, N.J., Oct. 14 (UPI) — Kremlin officials plan to ask the United States government to return a pilot convicted of drug smuggling, possibly in exchange for the release of American prisoners in Russia.
Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian civilian pilot, was arrested, tried and convicted for conspiracy to smuggle narcotics into the United States five years ago, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
This week, he petitioned the Russian ministry officials to negotiate a transfer back to his homeland. Russia’s Justice Ministry has forwarded that request to U.S. authorities.
“The Russian Justice Ministry sent a request for transferal of Yaroshenko K.V. to Russia in a letter to the Russian Foreign Ministry to be passed on via diplomatic channels to competent bodies of the United States,” Russian officials said in a statement.
Yaroshenko signed the petition, and his lawyer passed it on to the Russian government earlier this week.
The former pilot was convicted in 2011 of conspiring to import $100 million worth of cocaine into the United States after he was tracked down in Africa.
Yaroshenko has bristled at the prospect of spending his entire prison term in the United States and has been searching for an avenue to return to Moscow.
Yaroshenko might ultimately be sent back to Moscow in a trade for American citizens convicted and detained in Russia.
Russia’s commissioner for human rights, democracy and rule of law, Konstantin Dolgov, said Friday that Moscow would be receptive to such an arrangement.
“Yes, we have expressed to the U.S. side our commitment to invoke the Council of Europe convention [on the transfer of sentenced persons] and hand over a U.S. citizen or citizens held in Russian prisons,” he said.
One of the main reasons Moscow would like Yaroshenko returned is a concern for his health.
“His medical condition is still a great source of concern, which Konstantin himself confirms,” Dolgov said. “Let me tell you, I talked to him on the phone a while ago. He was talking from the prison, and he confirmed he had a number of serious medical issues.”
The pilot has claimed he’s been mistreated while in U.S. custody.
Earlier this week, it was reported that he might even have been hoping for a presidential pardon from Barack Obama. His attorney said such a pardon would be “a good signal from the U.S. government to improve bilateral relations with Russia.”
Yaroshenko is being held at a military detention facility at Fort Dix, N.J.