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American musician detained in Russia on drug charges

An American expatriate living in Russia has been arrested there on drug charges, according to the U.S. State Department.

Michael Travis Leake was arrested and is detained in Moscow, a State Department spokesperson said in an email, adding that embassy officials attended his arraignment on Saturday. “When a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, the Department pursues consular access as soon as possible and works to provide all appropriate consular assistance,” the spokesperson wrote. “We will continue to monitor the case closely.”

Leake is accused of selling drugs and is set to remain in custody until Aug. 6, according to a Moscow court report on Telegram. The report identified him as a musician and a former paratrooper.

Leake is a member of the Russian rock band Lovi Noch, according to the band’s posts on social media. A request for comment sent to an email address for Leake, listed as the band’s contact on its YouTube page, did not immediately receive a response.

In an episode of the television show “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” that was filmed and aired in 2014, according to the band, Leake was identified as an American expatriate and manager of a band called Louna. In the clip with Bourdain, Leake spoke out about the repression of free speech in Russia, alleging that an episode of a separate documentary television show featuring the band was cut due to interference by the Kremlin.

It was not immediately clear whether Leake had legal representation. His mother, Glenda Garcia, told CNN she had not heard from the U.S. government regarding Leake’s detention and was unsure whether he had an attorney. “I know he was in a band, I know he taught English,” she said. REN TV, a Russian television network, reported that a suspicious substance was found at Leake’s apartment, according to Reuters.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to frostier relations between Moscow and Washington. It has also heightened concerns over the safety of U.S. citizens living or traveling in Russia.

The State Department has issued a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” notice for Russia, citing “the unpredictable consequences of the unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment and the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials,” as well as “the arbitrary enforcement of local law,” among other factors.

Leake’s arrest follows that of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen who remains behind bars in a Moscow pretrial detention center on espionage charges, which the Journal and the U.S. government strongly deny. The State Department has deemed Gershkovich “wrongfully detained.”

A rare look inside the notorious Russian jail holding an American journalist

Brittney Griner, the American professional basketball player, was released from a Russian prison in December. She was detained for nearly 10 months and was sentenced to nearly a decade in prison on drug charges for carrying a small amount of cannabis oil in the country. The State Department said her detention was “wrongful,” and she was released after the Biden administration negotiated a prisoner swap, with the United States releasing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

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