An American musician with the Russian rock group LoviNoch (Catch the Night) has been arrested in Moscow on suspicion of drug trafficking, according to media reports.
Michael Travis Leake, whose Instagram account identifies him as the band’s singer (his last post was on Feb. 3), is suspected of selling mephedrone, a drug with similar effects to cocaine and MDMA, CNN and the Associated Press reported, citing Russian media reports and a statement on Telegram from a Moscow court.
Leake faces charges for the distribution or production of drugs, which carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. A Moscow court has ordered him to be held for two months in pre-trial detention, the reports say.
CNN reported that Russian media outlets, including Ren TV, a tabloid outlet, published a video of Leake’s arrest at his home and a mug shot from a Russian police station on Thursday (June 8). “I don’t understand why I’m here. I don’t admit guilt, I don’t believe I could have done what I’m accused of because I don’t know what I’m accused of,” Leake reportedly said.
A former paratrooper with the U.S. military who has lived in Moscow since 2010, Leake appeared on a 2014 episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in Moscow and St. Petersburg after being handpicked by Bourdain to appear on the show. In the episode, he half-joked that the KGB was listening in on their conversation and tailing Bourdain.
The episode’s producer, Darya Tarasova, told CNN that Leake and his friends were vocal critics of Russian state censorship and advocates for free speech in the country.
The U.S. State Department confirmed Leake’s detention in a statement sent to Billboard, with a spokesperson writing, “The Department of State takes seriously its commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad. It is our standard practice to reach out to the families of U.S. citizens detained overseas as soon as we are provided permission by the individual. We have attempted to reach out to Mr. Leake’s family. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance to Mr. Leake and his family.”
On Sunday, the State Department told CNN that U.S. embassy officials had attended Leake’s arraignment the day prior. “We will continue to monitor the case closely,” a State Department spokesperson told the outlet.
Leake is the latest American to be detained by Russian officials since the country’s military forces invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Punitive economic sanctions by the United States and its Western allies have further strained tensions with Russia.
In another drug-related case, WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested the month of the invasion after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage at a Moscow airport. A Russian court sentenced her to nine years in prison, but she was released in December in exchange for U.S.-imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
And in March, Russian officials detained Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich, accusing him of espionage, which he denies. On May 23, a Russian court extended his arrest by three months.