Fax blunder causes US-Russia row over drug bust pilot

A dialling error and a mis-sent fax caused Russia to accuse the US of kidnapping one of its citizens, the US has admitted.

The US and Russia have sought to reset their relationship, but the US State Department "pressed the wrong button on the fax machine" instead

The US and Russia have sought to reset their relationship, but the US State Department "pressed the wrong button on the fax machine" instead

When a Russian man was arrested in an international drug bust in May, notification was sent to the wrong country, the state department has said. Russian cargo pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko was arrested in Liberia and transferred to the US to face charges.

But Russian officials were angry that they hadn't been notified for weeks.

The fax giving the notice, usually sent within 72 hours of the arrest of a foreign national in the US, was sent to a third country by a government official, a spokesman said. The other country was reportedly Romania, just above Russia in the alphabetical list of countries.

'Kidnap'

The 40-year-old pilot was arrested by Liberian police in a joint operation involving the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Some four tonnes (8,800lbs) of cocaine were seized in the bust. He was handed over to the DEA after two days and extradited to the US.

We pressed the wrong button on the fax machine, to be brutally frank

Philip Crowley, US state department

On Wednesday the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement saying the US had violated the norms of international law. "We're talking about the kidnapping of a Russian citizen in a third country," the statement said.

"The actions of US special services in the forcible and secret relocation of our national from Monrovia to New York could only be seen as open lawlessness."

'Resolved'

The US state department has apologised to the Russians, a spokesman said. "We pressed the wrong button on the fax machine, to be brutally frank," spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

"I can say that we take our consular notification requirements very seriously. We made every attempt to comply with our international obligations, including consular access." He said that the matter had been resolved.

The US and Russia last year symbolically pressed the "reset button" on their relationship. The row comes just weeks after 10 Russian spies were unearthed living in US suburbs. They were arrested and deported to Russia in return for four Russians jailed for spying there.