By: Donna Walter
(reprinted from the St. Louis Daily Record & St. Louis Countian, September 3, 2007)
An UMSL student detained in Russia is free to return to St. Louis.
Roxana Contreras’ trial concluded Friday with Russian prosecutors dropping charges that the student was trying to smuggle old medals and coins out of the country. The judge, however, found her guilty of the lesser crime of buying the items and ordered her to pay a fine of 15,000 rubles, about $585.
“I cannot believe it. The prosecution dropped the contraband charges,” Contreras told Sonya Bahar, her thesis adviser at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Contreras was facing a possible seven-year prison sentence on the smuggling charges.
She told Bahar she expects to head back to St. Louis in a few days. “She sounded thrilled and excited,” Bahar wrote Friday in an e- mail.
Vassiliy Tsytsyarev, a member of the research faculty at UMSL from Russia, spoke over the phone with Contreras’ lawyer, Aleksei Andreevich.
According to the lawyer, Tsytsyarev said, the prosecutor asked for a fine of about $100 for the illegal buying charge but the judge increased it.
The lawyer surmised his client was a victim of bureaucracy and that the aggressive prosecution of the contraband charge was not a reflection of the Russian authorities’ perception of Contreras or their perception of the United States.
Contreras was visiting friends in Voronezh, in southwest Russia, in June when she bought the items from a street vendor as souvenirs. As she was preparing to fly out of the city on June 14, Russian officials confiscated the coins and medals and charged her with attempting to smuggle contraband out of the country. The items are valued at about $30.