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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fake U.S. Diplomat in $142,500 Robbery

RossiaLuther
A 2-meter-tall Cameroonian man has spent at least the last month posing as a U.S. diplomat. And as the prospective owner of a basketball team. And as a construction worker.

Moscow police weren't sure Tuesday who the mysterious African really was, but they were convinced of one thing: that he robbed a Dagestani businessman of 100,000 euros (around $142,500) and valuables.

The suspect, tentatively identified as Tian Voja Yannick Luther, was detained last week on suspicion of robbing the businessman's apartment while pretending to be a U.S. diplomat, police said.

Luther, 28, introduced himself as a diplomat when he met the businessman at an expensive restaurant in central Moscow, police said.

"The 'American' suggested that he and his new acquaintance do business together," Vitaly Matveyenko, a senior city police official, said in a statement.

"For further negotiations, the victim invited him to his home. While the host was making coffee in the kitchen, the suspect stole 100,000 euros, jewelry and a decorative dagger and fled," he said.

Matveyenko could not be reached for further comment Tuesday, and police spokeswoman Yulia Makartseva declined to identify the restaurant where the two had met. The businessman, who has not been identified, filed a complaint with the police Oct. 7, and Luther was detained 10 days later near an apartment he rented in western Moscow. It was unclear how police located him.

Luther told police that he was a U.S. citizen who had come to Russia to form a basketball club, Makartseva said.

Rossia television showed footage of the suspect's U.S. passport containing a Russian visa that identified him as William Luther. A police investigator told the channel on Monday night that the passport was a forgery. "Employees of the U.S. Embassy who arrived at the scene said the passport was forged and had been issued to another person," said the investigator, Yekaterina Karpikova.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman confirmed Tuesday that an embassy employee had assisted police in determining that the passport was fraudulent.

The embassy is "aware of instances of document fraud in Russia and works with local authorities to investigate passport and visa fraud," he said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

Police are investigating how Luther ended up in Russia. Exit and entry stamps in Luther's Cameroonian passport show he has spent time in China and Azerbaijan, Makartseva said.

"He said he had been a construction worker in Azerbaijan, which seems unlikely," she said.

She said she did not know which passport he had used to enter the country but that he had apparently arrived two years ago.

She said a man had come to police after the arrest and claimed that Luther stole 380,000 rubles ($15,300) from him.

Luther has been charged with theft and placed in custody to ensure that he does not flee. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.

A woman who answered the phone at the Cameroonian Embassy said no one was available to comment.

Police are trying to establish Luther's true identity, given the many names on various pieces of identification confiscated from him, Makartseva said. "Most likely we'll have to ask Interpol for assistance," she said.