Russia’s government on Wednesday denied any knowledge of the detention of two American Mormon church “volunteers.”
Family members and officials from the church, officially called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), have said the two men were detained Friday during a church meeting in Novorossiysk, almost 1,000 miles south of Moscow in the Krasnodar region.
Russia officially banned religious missionaries from operating on its soil under a counterterrorism law in 2016, but the LDS church said it had complied with the new restrictions by officially registering local workers as “volunteers,” rather than missionaries.
Kyle Brodowski, of California, told CBS News’ Salt Lake City, Utah affiliate KUTV this week that his son Kole was one of the two LDS volunteers detained by Russian security. It was spokesman Eric Hawkins who first said on behalf of the LDS church, in a statement released on Tuesday, that the two volunteers had been arrested on Friday.
“Please pray for our Son and his companion,” Kyle Brodowski, of Garden Grove, California, said in a Facebook post, according to KUTV.
The other LDS church member has not been identified. Hawkins, the LDS spokesman, said both volunteers were believed to be in good condition and that the church would “continue to work with local authorities and encourage the swift release of these volunteers.”
But on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow, “I don’t have this information,” when asked about the purported arrests. He told journalists to contact the “relevant authorities” for more information.
Russia has acknowledged that it is holding two U.S. nationals, one over alleged espionage and another on fraud charges.
Last month a Moscow court extended the detention of accused spy and former U.S. Marineby three months, one of his attorneys told CBS News. Vladimir Zherebenkov said the court ordered Whelan held until May 28, when he’s to appear in court again. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) sought the extension.
Whelan, who has U.S., British, Canadian and Irish citizenship, denies the charges against him.
Separately prominent U.S. investment manager, who had worked in Russia for decades, was arrested in mid-February and is now facing fraud charges over the alleged embezzlement of $37 million. A court in Moscow rejected his appeal near the end of February and said he could be held in prison until April 13 pending the completion of the fraud investigation.