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Russia: Court Sentences American Fulbright Scholar

Voronezh, Russia; 27 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian court sentenced American postgraduate student John Tobin today to three years and one month in a Russian prison on charges of obtaining, possessing, and distributing drugs. Before the verdict was read, Tobin delivered a final statement to the court, saying he was not guilty and that he had come to Russia to study.

The trial prosecutor urged the judge to sentence Tobin to four years in jail after dropping more serious charges that the Fulbright scholar had organised a drug-dealing group and was running a drug den. The U.S. government sponsors the Fulbright program, which is considered Washington's flagship program in international education exchange.

Tobin was detained 26 January as he left a nightclub in the central Russian city of Voronezh. Police say he had a matchbox containing marijuana. More of the drug was found in his apartment.

Tobin's case came to wide public attention in Russia when the security services accused him of ties with U.S. intelligence -- though he was not charged with espionage.

Russia's FSB security services (the former KGB) originally accused Tobin, who arrived in Russia last year with a letter of recommendation from the U.S. State Department, of being a trainee secret agent, but the espionage rap failed to surface during the trial itself.

A U.S. embassy official had been present at each day of the trial, but refused to comment to journalists about the verdict, saying he was only there as "an observer."