Liberian Authorities Mum over Fresh Concerns Regarding Arrest of ‘Russian Spy’ Liberia Now Detained in America
Monrovia – The Russian government is reportedly making frantic efforts for a prisoner swap with the US, regarding a suspected Russian spy, Konstantin Yaroshenko, FrontPageAfrica has learned.
Yaroshenko was arrested in Liberia in May 2010 and is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence in the US for drug trafficking.
Konstantin was picked up by US Special agents from the Royal Hotel in Sinkor on May 28, 2010 and was secretly extradited to the United States on June 1 and tried along with three Africans.
Sierra Leone national Gibrilla Kamara was arrested in the stint as well. He was tried and convicted along with the rest. He too got 22 years.
The investigation was triggered with the help of Fumbah Sirleaf, the son of Liberia’s former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who, as head of the Liberian National Security Agency, aided the probe by posing as a corrupt Liberian official in a well-planned sting operation.
The case resulted in two convictions and two acquittals in New York Federal Court.
The Russian pilot and accused smuggler Yaroshenko was the most notorious in the case. An African, named Ume, was considered the mastermind of the drug deal and was found guilty along with Yaroshenko.
A ‘Very Unusual’ Case
Multiple diplomatic and intelligence sources confirmed to FrontPageAfrica in recent days that the Russian government has been on the issue from the day he was arrested in Liberia. “It is very unusual for a government to be so interested in a criminal. Our suspicion is, this guy was a spy on assignment in West Africa, and he went rogue. Despite that, the government can’t turn its back on him. Interesting,” one source speaking on condition of anonymity told FPA recently.
According to the source, Yaroshenko had safe houses in both Guinea and Mali.
The source added: “Russia wants this guy back; in return, Russia will return an American who is held in jail in Russia.”
At the height of Yaroshenko’s trial, Mr. Sam Gaye, a former head of the Executive Protective Service(EPS) during the regime of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was accused by Russia, along with other US agents, and the Liberian government of EJS of torturing Yaroshenko in the NSA cell in Liberia. “I had to execute an affidavit of denial in federal court in NY. The judge agreed with me, and the motion for torture was denied. Yet, the Russian Government listed me among other US officials on its sanctions list in response to the Magnitsky Act,” Gaye who is No. 15 on the Russian sanctions list, told FPA at the weekend.
Saga Sparked Russian Ban for Liberian Probers
Gaye was a key witness against Yaroshenko during the trial in the Federal Court in New York.
The saga took a surprise turn last March when Russian Investigative Committee confirmed the resumption of an investigation into a criminal case against officers of United States and Liberian special services involved in the abduction of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko. Gaye has been named by Russia as being part of the torture of Yaroshenko.
“It is very unusual for a government to be so interested in a criminal. Our suspicion is, this guy was a spy on assignment in West Africa, and he went rogue. Despite that, the government can’t turn its back on him. Interesting.”A source speaking on condition of anonymity told FPA recently.
The Yaroshenko case was a major debacle between Russia and the United States. In fact, the Russians accused the US of kidnapping Yaroshenko in violation of international law and then deporting him illegally to the United States. The Russian request for his release has been repeatedly denied.
Thus, in recent months however, sources tell FPA, the Russians have been looking to trade spies with the US, Yaroshenko for an unnamed US spy.
Yaroshenko himself has said the case against him was concocted by the US after he declined to give evidence against Russian businessman and alleged arms dealer, Viktor Bout, whose gun-running escapade form the backdrop of the 2005 movie, Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage.
Several official UN reports have linked Bout to arms smuggling activities in Africa, mainly Liberia where he was accused of smuggling arms for Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
A United Nations Panel of Experts report documented 37 arms flights it says were operated by Bout to supply the former rebel group, Unita, in Angola in 1997 and 1998, when the rebels were subject to a UN embargo.
The panel also looked into violations of an arms embargo on Liberia, then run by former President Taylor, who is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence for war crimes in Sierra Leone.
‘Blood Diamonds’ Trade link
The panel investigated the trade in “blood diamonds” from Liberia’s neighbor Sierra Leone – diamonds which were used to buy weapons for rebels in the brutal Sierra Leonean war.
Yaroshenko told the Russia’s Izvestia newspaper in 2015 that his case was directly tied to the case against Bout.
Reports regarding the spy swap have been in the air for years. In 2016, for example, a lawyer for Yaroshenko declared that his client had signed a form authorizing his extradition to Russia.
Lawyer Aleksei Tarasov told TASS on September 27 that U.S. authorities asked Yaroshenko to sign the document as part of the formal procedure of extradition. The same day the Izvestia newspaper published comments from Yaroshenko himself saying that he had signed the form on September 12.
Five years later, however, Yaroshenko is still in US custody.
For years, Russia has been protesting the arrest and how the Yaroshenko case was handled, declaring that their nation was “kidnapped”, describing the process as “open lawlessness.” In fact, one of Yaroshenko’s lawyer claimed in 2010 that his client had been kept bound and naked in a Liberian hotel for two days without water.
In JULY 2010, the US State Department apologized to Russia for not giving prompt consular access to Yaroshenko.
Then State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley acknowledged that because of a technical slip-up, the consular visit had not come within the 72 hours required under international conventions, and that the United States has apologized to Russia for the mistake.
“We made every attempt to comply with our international obligations, including consular access. And I would say in the middle of this process there was an error on our part, and consular access was accomplished but was delayed beyond the normal window that we normally work through. Through an exchange of diplomatic notes, we believe we have resolved the questions that have been raised by the Russian federation,” he said.
Under questioning, Crowley said a fax message informing the Russian embassy of Yaroshenko’s arrival in the United States had been erroneously sent to the mission of another foreign country, which he did not identify. Crowley said the pilot had been detained in Liberia, expelled, and handed over to U.S. authorities.
As the debacle lingers between the US and Russia, security authorities in Liberia are mum over the implications of the Yaroshenko case. The frantic Russian interest in having him extradited in a reported exchange for an American spy is putting a new spin on a saga with enormous complications for the various parties involved amid new questions regarding the details leading to Yaroshenko’s arrest in Liberia.