A U.S. citizen and a military veteran who has lived in Russia for over 10 years has been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking, Russian news media reported Saturday.
The Associated Press quoted reports that Michael Travis Leake, a musician, was suspected of selling mephedrone, a powerful stimulant that’s often compared to drugs like cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA).
“I don’t understand why I’m here. I do not admit my guilt,” Leake said to Russian state media. “I do not believe that I could have done what I am accused of, because I do not know what I am accused of.”
A District Court in Moscow accused Leake of organizing a drug trafficking business “involving young people,” according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. The Moscow court ordered him to be held for two months in pre-trial detention. He faces charges of producing and distributing drugs, which can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
CNN reported that Leake appeared in court on June 10 and will remain in custody until Aug. 6 in pre-trial detention.
The case comes after the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March on espionage charges, which are widely viewed as politically motivated.
The U.S. State Department said in an emailed statement to AP that it was aware that a U.S. citizen had been recently arrested in Moscow.
The Guardian reported that a friend of Leake’s, Valeria Grobanyuk, was also arrested.
According to social media posts and friends, Leake was the frontman of a band called Lovi Nochi or Seize the Night.
The State Department has warned Americans to steer clear of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and following the February 2022 detention of Brittney at a Moscow airport, one week before the invasion. After being tried and sentenced to nine years in prison, Griner was released on December 8, 2022, in exchange for Russian arms dealer and Putin ally, Viktor Bout.