Acquitted son of Putin ally will use drone next time on adventure in Norway

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Andrey Yakunin, the son of ruler Vladimir Putin’s former closest allies Vladimir Yakunin was again acquitted after the Hålogaland Court of Appeal in Tromsø refused the prosecution’s appeal.

The case, that has been in and out of Norwegian courts, started almost two years ago when police in Norway’s northernmost region discovered that Yakunin had used a drone when climbing to one of the mountain peaks north on Svalbard.

Yakunin had sailed to Svalbard with friends in his private sailing yacht, the Firebird. He was detained in Hammerfest, one of the northernmost ports on mainland Norway.

The Barents Observer was first to tell that the arrested Russian, British citizen was the eldest son of Vladimir Yakunin, the former head of Russian railways and a close Putin associate.

The case soon made world-wide headlines.

Like his father is also Andrey Yakunin himself a wealthy businessman. Today he lives in Italy, running a real estate investment company. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Yakunin moved away from any investment positions in Russia.   

Police in Norway argued that Russian citizens are not allowed to fly drones in the country, as it violate the sanctions regime.

Andrey Yakunin spent 52 days in detention in Tromsø. The case has been two rounds in the court system, the second after the Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court for renewed handling, where Yakunin was acquitted once more. The prosecution then appealed the verdict again.

Sanctions 

When the case was heard in the Supreme Court in 2023, the district court’s acquittal was overturned suggesting that a hobby drone should be considered an aircraft for sanctions regulations.

A question in the court hearings has also been whether it makes a different that Yakunin has dual Russian-British citizenship. When arrested in Hammerfest, Yakunin presented his British passport, but police soon also found his Russian passport onboard the yacht. 

This week, the Court of Appeal made a final ruling that Yakuin is innocent and allowed to fly hobby drone when on adventure.

“From day one I have been saying that there is no offence for a British man to fly a drone in Svalbard. However, it has taken almost 2-years and a complicated legal process, with 52 days in detention to get this message across. But common sense and justice have inevitably prevailed in the end. I have never committed any criminal offence,” says Andrey Yakunin.

Will come back with drone

“I am just a yachtsman and an outdoor sports enthusiast who happens to enjoy filming nature’s beauty,” he says.

Will you use a small hobby drone next time you are on adventure-tour to Svalbard or northern Norway?

“Absolutely! Would just make double sure that my paperwork is in order,” Yakunin answers with a smile. 

The St. Petersburg born businessman says to the Barents Observer that he encourage everyone to check their DJI App for relevant settings before taking off with a drone next time in Norway.  

“From the 1st of January there is an RI requirement for operations in EASA Airspace for C1-C3,” Yakunin informs. 

It regulates the use of the smallest low risk civil drones, like those you could buy for a few hundred euros from an electronic store or on internet. 

Law suit in process 

Andrey Yakunin climbed the Kvasspiggen mountain north on Spitsbergen in August 2022 and then used a drone to photograph and scout potential routes. Photo: Private archive

 

Andrey Yakunin’s lawyers say it could come a law suit against Norwegian authorities. 

“This case has been an enormous burden for our client, both because he was falsely accused of having committed a criminal offense and because of the massive media attention the case received both nationally and internationally, says lawyer John Christian Elden.

“He feels that the Norwegian authorities should be held accountable for the emotional and material costs accrued as a result of the unfair charges,” Elden makes clear.