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Trial starts in Norway for Putin ally’s son who flew drone

The Associated Press
The Associated Press
 2022-11-29

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The son of a Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin denied any wrongdoing Tuesday at the start of his trial in northern Norway, where he is accused of violating a law that bars Russians from flying drones.

Andrey Yakunin who holds both a Russian and a British passport, was arrested in Hammerfest, in Arctic Norway, on Oct. 17, after he had sailed around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and along the coast of Norway. The archipelago sits more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of the Norwegian mainland.

Police seized “drones and electronic devices” when raiding his sailing boat. The 47-year-old Yakunin had been filming with the drone while mountaineering, glacier walking and sailing, according to his lawyer John Christian Elden, who has said that Yakunin should be considered a British citizen, rather than Russian.

Norwegian news agency NTB said that Yakunin is charged with flying drones several times on Svalbard, where he was between Aug. 3 and Sept. 6.

Yakunin is the son of Russian businessman Vladimir Yakunin, a longtime acquaintance of Putin, who was placed on the U.S. State Department’s sanctions list of Russian officials and businessmen following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Yakunin remains in custody. His trial is expected to run until Friday.

Numerous drone sightings have been reported near offshore oil and gas platforms belonging to NATO member Norway, a major oil and gas producer. Several Russian citizens have been detained for flying drones or taking photographs of sensitive sites in Norway.

Also Tuesday, a 50-year-old Russian man who was stopped at Norway’s border with Russia in the Arctic north carrying two drones and cameras and other media equipment was sentenced to 120 days in prison, Norwegian media reported.

No evidence was found by the Oslo District Court that the man was engaged in espionage, Norwegian broadcaster TV2 said.

But by flying his drone a total of 47 times from late August until early October he was found guilty by the court of violating drone regulations relating to Russian citizens.

It was not clear from the court’s decision what precisely the man is suspected of having filmed.

Last week, a 34-year-old Russian was sentenced to 90 days in prison for flying a drone. The man, who was not identified, was also not suspected of espionage. He admitted to flying the drone in southern Norway to photograph nature, claiming to be unaware that this was banned.

Under Norwegian law, it is prohibited for aircraft operated by Russian companies or citizens “to land on, take off from or fly over Norwegian territory.” Norway is not a member of the European Union but mirrors its moves and decided on the ban earlier this year after the invasion of Ukraine.

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