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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chilean Student is Fined $585 for Buying Medals

ReutersContreras leaving a court near Voronezh on Friday after being convicted.
Prosecutors on Friday dropped a smuggling charge against a Chilean student prohibited from leaving the country since June, but she was convicted on a second charge -- the illegal purchase of Soviet-era medals -- and fined 15,000 rubles ($585).

The courtroom developments near Voronezh ended a summer-long ordeal for Roxana Contreras, 29, who was stopped at the airport there in mid-June with old currency and medals in her luggage. She was later charged with smuggling and the illegal purchase of state awards.

The smuggling acquittal eliminated the threat of a seven-year prison sentence over old currency she said she bought as souvenirs, her lawyer, Alexei Andreyeshchev, said by telephone from Voronezh.

The court decided that it was a baseless charge, said her lawyer, who had argued that Contreras could not be found guilty because she had no intention of committing a crime.

Such a conviction would likely have prompted angry protests from Chilean officials and supporters of Contreras in the United States, where she is a graduate student in physics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

A U.S. congressman from Missouri, Todd Akin, had written to Russia's ambassador in the United States, Yury Ushakov, in support of Contreras. He said Friday that he was very pleased that the case was resolved and that Contreras would be able to return to her research.

The charges stemmed from three early 20th-century bank notes, a 1924 coin and six World War II and Soviet-era state medals that Contreras bought at a flea market in Voronezh, the lawyer said. Such items are sold at outdoor markets catering to tourists across the country.

It is illegal to buy or sell state awards and to take items considered culturally significant out of the country without permission. The maximum fine for the charge Contreras was convicted of is 80,000 rubles ($3,100). Prosecutors had asked the court to fine her 5,000 rubles.

Contreras had been barred from leaving Voronezh pending a resolution of her case. She is now free to go and plans to leave the country soon, Andreyeshchev said.

Contreras' boyfriend, Fred Scherrer, 41, of St. Louis, Missouri, said, "She's feeling a lot better and very relieved this is over with finally."

Authorities returned the old currency to Contreras, Andreyeshchev said.