Marc Fogel said he was busted with medical marijuana, not realizing it was illegal. Police have now upped the stakes in their case against him.
Russian officials said Thursday that a former U.S. embassy staffer in Moscow is facing up to 20 years in prison after police charged him with “large-scale” drug offenses.
Marc Fogel—an American citizen who now teaches English in Moscow—was arrested back in the summer of 2021 after he was caught with marijuana in his possession upon arriving at a Moscow airport. He said at the time that it was medical marijuana, which he had been prescribed after an operation on his lower back, and that he was unaware the prescription would not be valid in Russia.
Now, Russian police have upped the stakes considerably, charging Fogel with trafficking and possessing narcotics on a “large scale” and hinting at even more charges, with investigators suggesting he may have used his diplomatic immunity to run an entire drug smuggling ring.
“Marc Fogel was a teacher at the Anglo-American School, and before that he was an employee of the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Until May 2021, like his wife, he had diplomatic status. According to one version of the investigation, [Fogel] could have used that to organize a channel for the flow of drugs into Russia with the aim of selling it among students at the school,” police said in a press release carried by Russia’s TASS news agency.
A LinkedIn profile for a Marc Fogel notes his position at the Anglo-American School, but makes no mention of employment at the U.S. embassy.
Russian authorities provided no evidence for their allegation of a possible drug-smuggling ring, but said Fogel would be held behind bars until trial out of fear he could otherwise hide at the U.S. embassy to avoid prosecution.
The U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast on the charges against Fogel, which come as U.S.-Russia relations have sunk to their lowest level in years.
In a statement to RIA Novosti, spokesperson Jason Rebholz said only that the embassy was “monitoring the situation.”
The case went largely unnoticed until police announced the hefty charges against Fogel on Thursday. He faces up to 20 years on charges of the illicit transport and possession of narcotics.
“He says that he didn’t know about the existence in Russia of a ban on medical marijuana,” said Alexander Khurudzhi, a member of the public monitoring commission of Moscow and head of the human rights committee of the party “New People,” after visiting Fogel in detention in December.
At that time, police were quoted in local media saying he was found with about 17 grams of marijuana at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Police now say the drugs—marijuana and hashish oil—were “carefully disguised” and hidden in packaging for contact lenses and electronic cigarettes before being stuffed into sneakers. They did not specify the amount confiscated.
The Anglo-American School did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Fogel’s wife, Jane, who investigators have also implicated. Police claim she “managed to get rid of evidence located in [the couple’s] apartment” ahead of a search of the premises.
Police are now said to be looking for “accomplices” in the alleged scheme. RIA-Novosti reports that investigators have also raided the school where the “former American diplomat” worked.