Arkadi Gontmakher

Arkadi image“We don’t see an end to this police persecution. How long can an innocent man be tormented after having been acquitted by a jury trial?”

– Elena Gontmakher, wife

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Arkadi Gontmakher, an American citizen, was once dubbed the “King Crab King.” He was the largest importer of Russian crabs in the United States, but on September 20, 2007, the Bellevue, Washington resident was arrested in Moscow, Russia on charges of violating overfishing regulations.

Russian law allows a maximum of 18 months pretrial detention for the most “serious offences.”  If convicted, Arkadi’s maximum sentence would have only been two years. But Russian authorities had other plans. After three years in pretrial detention, Arkadi was still in jail and his health failing. All bail and house arrest requests were rejected. All appeals were exhausted. At one point, he was unanimously acquitted by a 12-member jury, only to be charged again with an almost identical set of criminal violations.

Arkadi’s illegal detention was by no means unique.  The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly –chastised Russia for its abusive pretrial detention practices.

Pretrial Rights International and other advocates worked to involve the State Department and members of congress on the case. U.S. Senator Ben Cardin later raised the issue of Arkadi’s abusive detention to President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton.

On February 18, 2011, Arkadi was safely returned to the United States and reunited with his wife and two sons. In a statement to the press, Arkadi thanked the United States Helsinki Commission, his Congressional representatives and other Congressional advocates, the Department of State, advocates in Washington, D.C., the NCSJ (an advocacy group on behalf of Jews in the former Soviet Union), and his friends and family.  It is only through this continuous support that Mr. Gontmakher believed he was able to survive.