Russian lawyer pleads leniency for US pastor charged with bringing hunting shells

MOSCOW: A U.S. pastor who admitted bringing hunting ammunition into Russia illegally did so only out of ignorance for Russian law, his lawyer argued Thursday.

Phillip Miles, 52, of South Carolina, has been jailed since his arrest on Feb. 3, five days after arriving in Russia carrying a box of rifle cartridges, which he said were a gift for a friend.

He has admitted bringing in the shells, but said he didn’t bother to check if Russian laws differed from U.S. laws.

Authorities say Miles could get slightly more than 3 years in prison if convicted for violating customs and firearms trafficking laws.

Vladimir Ryakhovsky, Miles’ lawyer, said customs officials at Moscow’s Sheremyetevo airport were partially at fault for not making it explicitly clear in English that travelers must declare ammunition, for sport or otherwise, when entering Russia.

He said Miles was an avid hunter and frequent visitor to Russia, where his supporters say he has done humanitarian work for years.

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“My client is merely a victim of the American mentality … where it seems everything is possible everywhere in the world,” he told the Golovinsky District Court.

Miles, wearing a clerical collar, was brought to the courtroom in handcuffs and listened to proceedings from inside a courtroom cage, where defendants in Russian criminal courts are held during trial. He looked baffled at times as a translator struggled to keep up with testimony.

“I’m surviving. I’m OK,” he told reporters before the session began.

He again explained to the court that the shells were a gift for a friend and it did not occur to him to declare them to customs officials upon arriving in Russia on Jan. 29.

“I just didn’t realize it was against the law. I’m here just because of my ignorance,” he said. Judge Olga Drozdova, who at times joked with prosecutors and Ryakhovsky and glanced at her fingernails, appeared to sneer in response.

Closing arguments are set for Friday, after which a ruling is expected.

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AP, via the International Herald Tribune, USA
Apr. 17, 2008

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This post was last updated: Apr. 17, 2008