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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NGO Rejects Smuggling Allegation

Two officers of a nongovernmental organization who were detained at Sheremetyevo Airport recently for failing to declare excess cash on Wednesday rejected the suggestion that they had attempted to smuggle the money into the country.

In a report aired on NTV television Tuesday evening, Federal Customs Service spokesman Oleg Sukharev said Manana Aslamazian, executive director of Internews Moscow, and the NGO's communications director, Gillian McCormack, had acted "inadequately" as they passed through customs.

McCormack dismissed Sukharev's statement. "It seems the report [on NTV] had the motivation to cast us in the worst possible light because we are an NGO," she said.

Sukharev could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Aslamazian and McCormack were detained Jan. 21 in the green channel at Sheremetyevo customs after arriving on a flight from Paris. A customs official asked whether they were carrying "sizeable" amounts of cash. They said they were, and the money was confiscated.

Aslamazian was carrying 9,550 euros ($12,400), while McCormack had 10,000 euros ($13,000) and small amounts in rubles and Thai baht. Travelers are permitted to bring any amount of cash into Russia, but amounts equivalent to more than $10,000 must be declared.

Both Aslamazian and McCormack admitted to having unwittingly broken the law. Their money has not been returned. They are waiting to see whether they will face criminal or administrative charges.

The two could face up to five years in prison if convicted. They could also get off with a fine.

Moscow's Transportation Prosecutor's Office has 30 days to file charges in the case. The office could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

McCormack said the money was part of her salary, which she had to bring back as she does not have a bank account in Russia. Aslamazian had collected a debt from a friend in Paris, she said.

"I just didn't realize that we had to declare the money," McCormack said. Aslamazian said the same.

Internews is a media development organization based in California. Its Moscow office, which is registered as a Russian NGO, works with a variety of media outlets, including NTV.

"That's why this is a personal drama for me: I am doubly upset that they would run such a report," Aslamazian said. "NTV is probably the most professional and ethical Russian television station," she added.