WASHINGTON – The U.S. apologized to Russia on Thursday for what it called a diplomatic slip-up in the case of a Russian man arrested in Africa and then extradited to the U.S. for alleged drug smuggling.
The Russian government had expressed outrage at U.S. handling of the case, calling the U.S. guilty of "open lawlessness."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was an unintended delay in notifying Russian authorities that they could visit the man, Konstantin Yaroshenko, 41, now in detention in New York.
"We have apologized to Russia," Crowley said, and the U.S. considers the matter to be closed.
Crowley would not, however, discuss details of Yaroshenko's apprehension in Liberia. He referred questions about the arrest to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
"There was cooperation between the United States and Liberia leading up to cracking this particular case and this particular network," Crowley said.
A spokeswoman for the DEA, Dawn Dearden, said on Wednesday that Yaroshenko was apprehended May 28 by Liberian authorities, who turned him over to the DEA two days later under an arrest warrant issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Yaroshenko was charged with smuggling "thousand-kilogram quantities of cocaine" throughout South America, Africa and Europe, the DEA said.
"While he was in DEA custody, the DEA followed the rules of law and the Geneva Convention regulations regarding treatment of a defendant," the DEA said.
Russia's Foreign Ministry sharply condemned Yaroshenko's arrest and extradition, asserting Wednesday that he had been "kidnapped."
Crowley said that after Yaroshenko attended a court hearing in New York on June 1, U.S. officials tried but failed to notify Russian diplomats that they could have access to the prisoner.
"We just happened to send (the notice) to the wrong embassy," Crowley said. "Normally we try to arrange these consular notifications within 72 hours and we didn't discover our error until it was after that period of time."
The spokesman would not say which embassy initially received the notice.
"We pressed the wrong button on the fax machine, to be brutally frank," he said.
Crowley said there was an exchange of messages with Moscow to explain the communication error.
"We freely acknowledge that in our diplomatic note, you know, to Russia," Crowley said. "And we do believe this matter has been resolved."