24 July 2007, 11:19
Arrested U.S. pastor rejects bribery charges - lawyer
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, July 24, Interfax - The defense lawyer for U.S. missioner, Pastor Pak Hio Sun of the Blagodat (Grace of God) religious organization in Kholmsk, Sakhalin, plans to meet with his client this week to discuss specifics of the criminal case opened against him.
The pastor was detained on July 9 on suspicion of bribing a local migration service official.
"The pastor says he is innocent. I have talked with the investigator, with the pastor's wife and with parishioners, and also with U.S. Consul General Tom Armbruster [who met with the pastor after his arrest.] They quoted the missioner as saying that he had brought all the money he possessed to the head of the Migration Service's Kholmsk department in penalties for an administrative offence incriminated on him, not as a bribe. Not knowing the Russian language and Russian customs, the pastor thought the fine should be delivered directly to the migration service head and did not consider the money to be a bribe," Vyacheslav Zhigalov told Interfax on Tuesday.
Pastor Viktor Kim of the Grace of God Church in Nevelsk said the colleague's arrest was a misunderstanding. "The arrest was due to some misunderstanding and because the pastor did not speak Russian," he said.
The Grace of God Church in Kholmsk has been under construction for five years now on donations coming from different parts of the world, he said. "The church was being built as the money was arriving. The construction was initially run by a company, which subsequently switched to a bigger project. Then Chinese citizens offered their services through an interpreter, assuring the pastor that their migration documents were in order. Trusting them was a mistake," he said.
Not long before the arrest, migration service officials informed the pastor that they had started an administrative probe into the employment of illegal Chinese migrants, and would demand the payment of 400,000 rubles in fines, he said. "But no official documents were sent to the pastor, aged 66, who wanted the construction to be finished in his lifetime, so he brought all the money he had at that moment [300,000 rubles] right to a migration service official," Kim said.
Kim also said that he had met with the arrested pastor at a pre- trial detention facility in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. "The pastor suffers from heart problems, bronchial asthma and an oncological condition, and feels unwell. He complained that no one understood him," he said.
Kim said the defense lawyer had requested that his client be released from custody to consult his doctors. The request will be heard by the regional court on July 26.
On July 9 2007, the Kholmsk city prosecutor's office detained the missioner and his interpreter on suspicion of offering a bribe to a local migration service official.
The official had earlier informed the prosecutor's office that representatives of a church, active in Kholmsk and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, wanted to bribe him in exchange for the promise to drop administrative charges against Chinese citizens, illegally employed to build a church in Kholmsk.
Both the pastor and the interpreter were detained after they handed 300,000 rubles to the migration service official.
On July 13, official bribery charges were brought against them.
On the same day, the Sakhalin Regional Court granted prosecutors' request for placing the U.S. missioner in custody. The interpreter, Russian citizen Kim Sun Da, was released with travel restrictions.
The investigation is continuing under the supervision of the Sakhalin regional prosecutor.