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Russian Arrested In U.S. Child Custody Case As Kremlin Cries Foul


WASHINGTON -- U.S. authorities have arrested a Russian woman in an apparent child custody battle, drawing a public protest from the Kremlin's top child welfare official.

Olga Pimanova, 30, was detained by sheriffs in Cook County, Illinois -- where Chicago is located -- and booked May 20 a charge of indirect civil contempt, according to police records.

She told the Russian tabloid Life News in a June 3 interview that she was arrested as she stepped off a plane and is currently under house arrest on charges of unlawfully taking her daughter out of the United States in a dispute with her ex-husband.

Her arrest drew an angry response from Russian President Vladimir Putin's official children's rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, who accused U.S. authorities of detaining Pimanova on a "contrived pretext."

He said on Twitter that the woman is being "held as a hostage."

Astakhov, a high-profile advocate for a Russian law banning U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children that was widely criticized by Western governments and rights activists, said that Pimanova had taken her daughter from the United States to Russia two years ago.

"We are categorically against and deem such demand as unlawful," Astakhov said.

The dispute appears to stem from her divorce from Jorge Castillo, which was filed in December 2104, according to Cook County court records.

A phone message left with Castillo's lawyers was not immediately returned.

Yury Melnik, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, said the embassy learned of the case from Pimamova's relatives.

"We requested from U.S. authorities official documentation explaining the circumstances of her arrest and the charges she is facing," Melnik told RFE/RL in an email, adding that they had yet to receive a reply.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at a June 3 news briefing in Washington that he did not have any details about the case but that "obviously consular visitation would be expected" for a foreign citizen under arrest in the United States.

Russia has long voiced anger over cases involving alleged abuse of adopted Russian children in the United States. It has also vehemently defended Russian parents involved in custody battles in Western countries.

In 2012, Russia passed a law banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans. Officials said the law was prompted by the case of a boy who died in 2008 three months after being adopted from Russia when his American father left him in a sweltering hot car for nine hours.

But critics of the law said it was passed in response to sanctions imposed by the U.S. government related to a brazen tax fraud case and the death of whistleblowing tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

In an interview with Life News, Pimanova said she was jailed on what she described as child abduction charges.

She said her ex-husband had sought custody of the girl after their divorce, even though, she said, there is no evidence that he is the child's biological father.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for June 6.

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