U.S. Pastor to Be Held for 2 Months

A Moscow court has ordered a U.S. pastor to remain in detention for two months while prosecutors investigate him on suspicion of smuggling ammunition into the country, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said Sunday.

Phillip Miles, a pastor of the Christ Community Church in Conway, South Carolina, was detained at Sheremetyevo Airport on Feb. 3, days after rifle rounds were discovered in his luggage.

Miles remained on Sunday in the airport holding cell where he was taken after being detained, the spokeswoman said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

At Friday's hearing, the Golovinsky District Court, which has jurisdiction over Sheremetyevo, ordered Miles be moved to a different, "interim facility," the spokeswoman said. It was unclear when that would happen.

"After [Friday's] preliminary hearing, Miles remains in detention on charges that may include trafficking, with a potential sentence of a monetary fine or four years imprisonment, and smuggling, with a potential sentence of three to seven years," the spokeswoman said.

Airport officials seized the ammunition when Miles entered Russia on Jan. 29. Officials allowed Miles to continue on his trip to Perm, where he met fellow church members, on the proviso that he check in with them at Sheremetyevo on the way back to the United States.

When he did, he was detained on suspicion of smuggling the ammunition, which he admitted he failed to declare, as required by law, according to friends.

The bullets were a gift for a pastor in Perm, who was a fellow hunting enthusiast, according to the embassy spokeswoman and Miles' associates.

Neither the law enforcement body that detained Miles nor the location of the court could be established as of Sunday. The embassy spokeswoman did not have immediate access to the information and calls to prosecutors, the Federal Security Service and the Moscow City Court went unanswered.

Two lawyers contacted Sunday said authorities' treatment of Miles was within the law.

"If he was unsure, all he had to do was approach a customs official and ask if he should declare the bullets," Sergei Melnikov, a lawyer who specializes in customs and immigration issues, said on Sunday.

"Checking one box on the declarations form could have saved him all this trouble," Melnikov added.

Igor Trunov, a criminal lawyer who deals with high-profile cases, said a number of factors could have compounded Miles' situation.

"It all depends on how he acted when he was stopped," Trunov said. "If it appeared to customs officials that he was trying to hide the fact that he had the ammunition in the suitcase, that would have aroused their suspicion," he added.

Friends insist that Miles' intentions were good.

The 60-days holding time was nothing sinister, Trunov said, because authorities would need the time to run complex background checks on Miles, which are complicated by the fact that he is not Russian.

"And his line that the bullets were a present would in no way reduce his responsibility," he added.

Dominic Starr, a friend and fellow church member, said by telephone from South Carolina on Sunday that Friday's ruling was "not completely unexpected" but expressed confidence that Miles' "record of total integrity" would lead to his release.

In a statement on its web site, the Christ Community Church called Friday's ruling a "temporary setback."