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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Pastor Held for Bullets in Suitcase

A U.S. pastor is being held in a detention cell in Sheremetyevo Airport after trying to bring a box of ammunition into the country.

A court will consider Friday whether to charge Phillip Miles, a pastor of the Christ Community Church in Conway, South Carolina, with smuggling, the U.S. Embassy said.

If charged and convicted, Miles faces a possible fine or prison sentence.

Miles, 57, arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport on Jan. 29 with a single box of rifle rounds in his suitcase, said Dominic Starr, a friend and fellow church member.

Miles was headed for Perm, and the bullets were a gift for a pastor there who was a hunting enthusiast, Starr said by telephone from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Airport officials accused Miles of failing to declare the ammunition as required by law and confiscated the box, Starr said. He was allowed to continue on to Perm on condition he answer further questions when he returned for a flight to the United States.

Miles arrived back at Sheremetyevo on Sunday and was detained. He is being kept in a holding cell at the airport, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.

"We can confirm that Miles is under investigation by Russian authorities on suspicion of smuggling," the spokesman said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

Embassy officials have visited him twice since Sunday.

The spokesman refused to provide further information, citing the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.

Miles could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and it was unclear which law enforcement agency had detained him. Natalya Semeikina, a Federal Customs Service spokeswoman, said Miles had not been detained by customs officers. Repeated calls to the Federal Security Service and police at Sheremetyevo Airport went unanswered Wednesday.

Starr said the bullets were among many gifts that Miles was carrying to pastors of churches in and around Perm. "We are hoping that the relationship that Miles and our church have built with Russia will see him through this," Starr said.

The trip was Miles' ninth consecutive annual visit to Russia and the first time he has experienced trouble with authorities, Starr said.

Christ Community Church, a nondenominational church founded in 1981 and associated with Evangel Fellowship International, lists Russia as one of its short-term missions on its web site.

Smuggling carries punishments ranging from a fine to a prison sentence, the length of which depends on the severity of the offense.

In June, a Chilean student was charged at the Voronezh airport with trying to smuggle Soviet-era medals and currency out of the country. Four months later, a court convicted the student, Roxana Contreras, of a lesser charge of illegally purchasing the medals and fined her 15,000 rubles ($585). She had faced seven years in prison.

Contreras said she had bought the items as souvenirs from a street vendor.

In April, 75 rare Soviet posters were seized from a U.S. diplomat at Domodedovo Airport. The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission to Moldova was released immediately because he had diplomatic immunity.