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Freed US Student Hopes to Leave Russia By Week's End - 2001-08-06

The father of an American student paroled last week after serving 6 months of a one year prison sentence in Russia on a drug charge says his son is looking forward to seeing his family.

John Tobin, Sr. said his son still loves Russia and that, in a sense, has had a marvelous experience even though it may sound a little ridiculous to say that.

He told reporters at a news conference at the American Embassy here that his son is not complaining about his six months spent in prison although he will be glad to get home to his family and friends. "He looks great," he said. "I mean, physically he's drawn he's thin, he's pale. But, hopefully, a couple of weeks or more in North America with his friends and his mother and some home cooking I think it'll do wonders and he'll be back to his old self. It's nice to see a spark in his eyes still. He hasn't lost that."

John Tobin, Jr. cannot leave Russia until he receives an exit visa. His father said he hoped to be leaving by the end of the week. The younger Tobin has declined any public comment since his release, possibly reflecting concern that any comment might affect his prospects for leaving Russia.

The 24-year-old had been studying political science at Voronezh State University on a Fulbright scholarship until he was arrested earlier this year and charged with possession and distribution of marijuana. He was convicted in April and sentenced to three years in prison. A higher court overturned the distribution conviction and reduced his sentence to one year. Last Thursday, he was recommended for parole. He was freed the next day.

U.S. Congressman John Maloney, who represents Mr. Tobin's home district in Connecticut, suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have intervened in the case. "I think the fact that President Bush and President Putin reviewed this matter in Genoa only two weeks ago and here we are just two weeks later, I think that speaks very clearly of President Putin's concern and his help in regard to this," Congressman Maloney said. "And I believe that getting this issue resolved is good for the relations between the two countries."

The Tobin case gained international attention when officials for Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, accused him of being a spy in training. They said he had come to Russia to study the language and culture before beginning work for an American intelligence agency. However, he was never charged with espionage.

Mr. Tobin said he was not guilty of the drug charges and maintained that the marijuana was planted on him because he had refused an offer from the FSB to spy against America.

His arrest raised suspicions because it came at a time when the United States and Russia were each accusing the other of spying. Washington expelled 50 Russian diplomats and the Kremlin followed suit sending 50 American diplomats home.

Since then relations between Moscow and Washington have been improving despite on-going differences over U.S. plans to build a missile defense system, which Russia opposes.