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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Nonprofit Head Arrested In Minsk on Marijuana Charges

Belarussian authorities have arrested the U.S. director of a U.S. student exchange program on charges of marijuana use and possession, the country's security services said Friday.

Charles Periello, 40, director of the Belarussian branch of the American Council for Collaboration in Education and Language Study, was arrested Thursday night "while using drugs" in his apartment in Minsk, Belarussian KGB spokesman Fyodor Kotov said.

Kotov said authorities had raided Periello's residence on a tip that a drug user occupied the apartment.

"It turned out to be Mr. Periello, and the apartment was his, and the marijuana was his," Kotov said by telephone from Minsk.

Periello is being detained in the KGB detention prison in Minsk, he said.

David Patton, the U.S. program's regional director for the New Independent States, said he was in close contact with the U.S. Embassy in Minsk and was doing "everything possible to find out the details and secure his [Periello's] release."

He said that Periello was expected to meet with a U.S. consular official Friday afternoon.

"We have been working in the region for 26 years, and this is the first time something like this has happened to us," Patton said.

He added that he was unaware of Periello using marijuana in the three years that he has known him.

The U.S. Embassy declined comment.

The Belarussian KGB spokesman said that marijuana had been found in Periello's apartment but could not specify the amount.

Periello's detention comes after a Russian court convicted U.S. Fulbright scholar John Tobin on marijuana charges in April. He was originally sentenced to 37 months in prison, but the sentence was later reduced to one year. Tobin's lawyer said last week that he had sent an appeal to the Supreme Court and hoped that the sentence would be further eased.