A 24-year-old American student accused by the authorities of training to be
a spy went on trial Tuesday on drug charges. John Tobin, a Fulbright
scholar from Ridgefield, Connecticut, faces 15 to 20 years in prison if
convicted of the charges, which include organizing a drug den, distribution
of marijuana to a group and possession of marijuana with intent to
distribute, his lawyer Vladimir Bayev said.

Tobin, pale with dark circles under his eyes, told Judge Tatyana Korchagina
that he was innocent of the charges.

"I never saw anyone in my apartment using drugs," he said, speaking in Russian.

Tobin was detained Jan. 26 at about 3 a.m. as he was leaving the popular
night club Night Flight in this town 475 kilometers south of Moscow. He was
jailed Feb. 1 after failing to appear for questioning.

A friend of Tobin's, Andrei Startsev, testified that Tobin twice gave
marijuana joints to guests at his rented two-room apartment, once in
November and again in January.

Another friend, Anton Vasilyev, said he had seen people smoking in the
apartment and smoking out of a plastic bottle. He said it was not tobacco
but refused to specify what the substance was.

Both witnesses denied that Tobin had ever tried to sell or persuade them to
use drugs.

A drug expert from the local police force, Natalya Korobchenko, said a
urine test taken at 2:25 p.m. on Jan. 26 showed traces of marijuana.

She said the test indicated Tobin had used marijuana within 22 days.

Tobin, wearing a brown leather coat, brown sweater and blue jeans, said he
had smoked marijuana on Jan. 9 in Amsterdam on his way to Russia.

Eleven witness took the stand Tuesday as prosecutors sought to prove that
Tobin had run a drug den and actively pushed others to use marijuana. Up to
30 are expected to testify in the trial, which is expected to last from two
days to a week.

The U.S. Embassy declined to comment about the case, citing privacy
considerations. An embassy official attended the trial Tuesday.

Tobin, who came to Voronezh with a letter of recommendation from the U.S.
State Department, graduated from Middlebury College and had studied at the
prestigious Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. He was
arrested while studying at Voronezh State University on the Fulbright
scholarship.

His case gained attention in February when the Federal Security Service
accused him of being a spy in training. The allegations came shortly after
the United States charged FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen with spying for
Russia.

The FSB hasn't charged Tobin with spying, but it appears to still be
suspicious of his activities.

"He has appeared several times near the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant,
and he can't provide a coherent explanation for this," Pavel Bolshunov,
spokesman for the Voronezh FSB office, said Tuesday on NTV television.

"Neither can he explain why he covertly made digital recordings of his
conversations with politicians, political analysts and teachers in
Voronezh. This case is raising more and more questions," he said.

Bolshunov did not provide any details about remarks.

The espionage allegations took a back seat at the trial Tuesday as
prosecutors brought witness after witness to the stand to try to piece
together an account of what happened the night of Jan. 26 when Tobin was
first detained.

Some expert witnesses offered contradictory testimony, raising questions
about police procedures during the investigation.

The chief investigator in the Tobin case said police found a matchbox
containing marijuana during a search of the defendant outside the night club.

Two witnesses - passers-by ordered by the police that night to watch the
search - told the court that police had asked what was in the matchbox and
Tobin replied coffee.

"It was obvious that it wasn't coffee," said one of the witnesses, Sergei
Shipelkavich, who had asked Tobin for a cigarette just before the police
stopped him. "It was a green substance, and if that is coffee I don't know
what to say," he said.

He and the other witness said police had placed the matchbox in a paper bag
and sealed it.

However, when the matchbox was presented as evidence Tuesday it was in a
sealed plastic bag.

Police were expected to be questioned about the bag Wednesday.

Tobin said he pocketed the matchbox at the night club.

Also, there was some confusion about how much marijuana was in the matchbox.

Prosecutors offered an independent expert analysis stating 1.48 grams of
marijuana were in the matchbox.

But a police report stated there was 0.148 grams.

Police official Irina Brykina, who had filled out the police report, faced
the wrath of the prosecutor and the judge over the huge disparity in numbers.

Red-faced, she said, "It was my mistake for not just writing more than 0.1
grams [had been found]."

By law, drug charges can only be filed if a suspect is caught with more
than 0.1 grams of marijuana.

"I have doubts about the type and amount of substance given to the
experts," Tobin's lawyer said.

Outside the court, a professor from Voronezh State University praised Tobin
as a good student.

"He's smart, outgoing and nice," said Anatoly Leonov.

Also among the witnesses Tuesday were Tobin's landlord and his upstairs
neighbor, Rimma Alexandrova.

Alexandrova, 67, said that since November she had kept a record of Tobin's
social gatherings, which she said typically lasted from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.
and were loud.

Prosecutors asked if she ever smelled smoke.

"Why?" Alexandrova said. "Was there a fire?"

Prosecutors explained that they meant marijuana smoke, and the neighbor
replied she had only paid attention to the noise.

Tobin, who spoke little Tuesday, earlier told the court about the gathering
at the apartment. "It was a fun crowd," he said. "I rarely had more than
five people over at once."

Tobin looked exhausted by the time the trial wrapped up in the late
afternoon. He showed little emotion during the proceedings.

Judge Korchagina won a smile from Tobin when she opened the trial by
declaring: "Call in the witnesses, call in the witnesses. John wants to get
out of here quickly," and looked in his direction.


Newshawk: Mister Farmer
Pubdate: Wed, 25 Apr 2001
Source: Moscow Times, The (Russia)
Copyright: 2001 The Moscow Times
Contact: digges@imedia.ru
Website: http://www.moscowtimes.ru/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/903
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis)