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The case of Konstantin Yaroshenko: How and why the US imprisoned a Russian pilot

In 2011, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison

MOSCOW, April 27. /TASS/. On April 27, 2022, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced the exchange of US citizen Trevor Reed, convicted in 2020 for attacking police officers in Moscow, for Russian air pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 2010. TASS FACTBOX editors have summarized the highlights of the Yaroshenko case.

Detention and trial in US

Konstantin Yaroshenko (born in 1968) is the owner of the RostAvia company (registered in Rostov-on-Don in 1998). On May 28, 2010, he was arrested in Liberia by US Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local police, and smuggled to the US (it was the first time a Russian citizen was captured by a US secret service in a third country and then brought to the US). He was charged with running an international cocaine smuggling scheme. The indictment said he had colluded with a group of individuals who were acting on behalf of cocaine traffickers in Colombia. Nigerian Chigbo Peter Umeh and several citizens of Colombia and Sierra Leone were also detained in the same case. According to the US secret services, the suspects planned to deliver three consignments of cocaine (4 tonnes all in all $100 million worth) from Colombia to Liberia and Ghana. Then part of the cargo was to be transported in small batches to New York (for this reason the case was initiated by the New York attorney’s office).

The trial began in February 2011. Yaroshenko refused to plead guilty or to conclude a plea agreement. On April 28, 2011, the jury found Yaroshenko and Chigbo Peter Ume guilty of criminal conspiracy to transport a large consignment of drugs. On September 7, 2011, Yaroshenko was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Umeh, recognized as the organizer of the scheme, was handed a 30-year prison sentence. The other defendants were acquitted.


In November 2012, Yaroshenko's defense filed an appeal. In August 2013, it was turned down, after which the verdict entered into force. In April 2014, Yaroshenko's lawyer Alexey Tarasov filed a petition for a new trial, as new evidence emerged of Yaroshenko’s innocence. In particular, according to the lawyer, a "confirmation was received from Liberian law enforcement officers that the Americans gave them a bribe of $100 for torturing Yaroshenko for three days." However, in February 2015, the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York denied a retrial.

Russia’s efforts

On July 19, 2010, Russia sent a note to the US Department of State accusing US secret services of kidnapping the pilot and thus violating the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the bilateral consular convention. These documents require mandatory notification about the arrest of citizens of the participating countries in third countries. Later, Department of State spokesman Philip Crowley apologized, explaining the lack of notification to the Russian side as a technical slip.

In May 2012 and September 2013, Russia’s Ministry of Justice submitted a request to the US authorities for Yaroshenko’s extradition to Russia on the basis of the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the transfer of prisoners for serving sentences in their home countries, to which both Russia and the United States are parties. The request was rejected.

In October 2016, the Russian Foreign Ministry submitted a new extradition request. In May 2017, Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova, signed an appeal to US President Donald Trump asking him to pardon Konstantin Yaroshenko.

On July 1, 2019, Moscow addressed Washington with a proposal for exchanging Konstantin Yaroshenko for Paul Whelan, a US citizen arrested on December 28, 2018 in Russia on spying charges. No response followed.

Prison conditions and health

Until mid-June 2018, Yaroshenko served his term in the Fort Dix prison in New Jersey, where he was repeatedly placed in a punishment cell without explanation. Later he was transferred to a transit prison in Brooklyn, New York, and then to a prison in Danbury, Connecticut.

According to his lawyer, Yaroshenko has serious health problems (in particular, heart failure and a number of other chronic diseases). In December 2017, he had benign stomach tumors removed. In February 2020, Yaroshenko said that he must have suffered a minor stroke. The defense pressed for Yaroshenko’s release in view of likely risks to his health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The prison denied his early release.