A district court in Tromsø, Norway, has acquitted Andrei Yakunin, son of former Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin, reported Norwegian media outlet NRK.
Yakunin, who has Russian and British citizenship, was accused of launching a drone on Norwegian territory, which is prohibited to Russian citizens due to sanctions.
According to reporting by The Guardian, at least seven Russians have been arrested for flying drones in Norway since the country tightened controls around Russians taking photographs of critical infrastructure. Jonas Gahr Store, the Norwegian president, has blamed foreign intelligence for drone sightings at offshore oil and gas fields and Norwegian airports. “It is not acceptable that foreign intelligence is flying drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” he said.
Yakunin, who founded a private equity fund in London in 2006, claimed that he was using the drone to spot polar bears and potential avalanches on an expedition in Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. In court, Yakunin said he was unaware of the drone ban and considered himself mostly associated with Britain, not Russia. The prosecution demanded that Yakunin be kept in custody for 120 days.
“The court finds that the EU sanctions against aviation are intended to affect general aviation with manned aircraft. This also applies to drones, which must be registered and subject to other air traffic regulations. Small drones, as in this case, are not subject to the sanctions rules,” the court wrote in the ruling.
Prosecutor Kristin Røhne told NRK that the decision would be appealed to the district court:
“If the district court's decision becomes final, it will mean that the other four court orders are reversed. That's why it's important to get legal clarification on this issue.”
His yacht was raided in Hammerfest, northern Norway, by Norwegian police who seized drones and electronic devices on October 17. Yakunin was detained and kept in custody for two weeks. On October 27, he was released as the court agreed with the defense that Yakunin's actions did not constitute a criminal offense.