Norway acquits Putin ally’s son who flew drone

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The son of a Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin has been acquitted in Norway of violating a law that bars Russians from flying drones.

Andrey Yakunin, who holds both a Russian and a British passport and who lives in Italy, was arrested in Hammerfest, in Arctic Norway, on Oct. 17, after he had sailed around the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard and along the coast of Norway.

When off Svalbard, he was responsible for two drones that he owned, and which were used several times for flights over the archipelago which sits more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of the Norwegian mainland. On some occasions he piloted them himself, the court said.

The 47-year-old Yakunin had been filming with the drone while mountaineering, glacier walking and sailing.

Under Norwegian law, it is prohibited for aircraft operated by Russian companies or citizens “to land on, take off from or fly over Norwegian territory.” Norway is not a member of the European Union but mirrors its moves and decided on the ban earlier this year after the invasion of Ukraine.

The Nord-Troms and Senja District Court said late Wednesday that flying a hobby drone is not covered by the sanction regulations.

"It is very gratifying, but not at all surprising, that the district court has concluded that Andrey Yakunin has not committed any criminal offense in Norway,” his lawyers, John Christian Elden and Bernt Heiberg, said in a statement.

The prosecution, which had asked Yakunin to be jailed for 120 days, appealed the verdict.

Yakunin is the son of Russian businessman Vladimir Yakunin, a longtime acquaintance of Putin, who was placed on the U.S. State Department’s sanctions list of Russian officials and businessmen following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Numerous drone sightings have been reported near offshore oil and gas platforms belonging to NATO member Norway, a major oil and gas producer. Several Russian citizens have been detained for flying drones or taking photographs of sensitive sites in Norway.