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Russian Court Backs Release Of American Cartoonist Charged With Drug Smuggling

Gaylen Grandstaff pictured with his wife Anna in April.
Gaylen Grandstaff pictured with his wife Anna in April.

The Moscow City Court has upheld a lower court's decision to release U.S. citizen Gaylen Grandstaff from custody until the Prosecutor-General's Office clarifies its arguments in the drug-smuggling case against him.

"The decision of the Solntsevo [district] court on March 18 remains unchanged," TASS quoted an appellate court judge as saying on December 9.

Grandstaff spent more than 600 days in jail after Russian Customs agents in July 2017 stormed the Moscow apartment he shares with his Russian wife as he took receipt of a $10 bottle of metal cleaner and peptides he had ordered online to help reduce inflammation resulting from Crohn's disease.

He was charged with smuggling a "large" amount of a psychotropic substance after Russian authorities determined that the metal cleaner contained gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), a common industrial solvent that can also be used as a recreational or athletic-performance enhancing drug.

The charges against Grandstaff are punishable by 10 years to 20 years in prison in Russia.

Grandstaff's trial and incarceration -- which he documented through a cartoon character called Bear -- attracted international media attention. In a series of cartoons he sent to his wife over two years, Bear described his situation as a judicial "circus" and shed light on harassment from guards, beatings by fellow inmates, and other mistreatment in jail.

One of the cartoons that Grandstaff sent his wife from prison.
One of the cartoons that Grandstaff sent his wife from prison.

Grandstaff was released from custody after the surprise decision by the Solntsevo District court on March 18, citing the now 54-year-old former firefighter's ill health and inconsistencies in the defense's case.

While he was able to return to his Moscow home, Grandstaff could not apply to replace his expired visa, leaving him unable to work. In addition he could not leave the country until his case was resolved.

Grandstaff moved from the United States to Russia in 2011 and worked as an English teacher.

He wrote on Facebook on December 9 that "I remain 'free' at the moment, as the case has been returned for further 'investigation.'"

In comments to RFE/RL, Grandstaff said that as far as he understands "it's back to square one," adding that "the evidence supports my testimony, which never changed."

Grandstaff's defense team has consistently argued that he was never informed of the contents of the cleaning solvent he purchased online, and was not criminally liable for it entering Russia.

From the onset of the trial, the defense said that Grandstaff's medical condition made his detention a violation of Russian law, that he had been denied adequate medical treatment for injuries he sustained in prison, and that fellow inmates had beaten him and made attempts on his life.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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