Burma

US Man Charged in Cannabis Case Fled Myanmar for US on New Passport

By Zarni Mann 5 March 2020

MANDALAY—A missing US citizen who was charged by a court in Myanmar with growing cannabis fled the country on a new passport and is now back in the United States, a source who personally knows him has confirmed to The Irrawaddy.

John Fredric Todoroki, 63, was arrested by Mandalay police in April 2019 along with two locals for operating an alleged marijuana plantation in the Myotha Industrial Park in Mandalay Region.

Todoroki claimed he was raising a cannabis crop consisting of hemp plants—not marijuana—and had been given permission to do so by regional authorities. Hemp and marijuana are two different species of cannabis.

Todoroki spent nearly four months in detention at Myingyan Prison until the court granted him medical bail, set at 325 million kyats (about US$232,380), in July, as he had developed respiratory problems in prison. He was released after a bail bondsman signed a guarantee covering the amount.

His lawyers submitted an appeal to the regional court asking it to scrap the case, saying their client had official permission to operate a hemp plantation. But the court rejected the appeal in November.

After being released on bail, Todoroki failed to appear in court. He has been absent from the last few months of his trial, which is ongoing. If convicted he could be sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.

In February, the court issued an arrest warrant and ordered the bondsman, Dr. Khin Maung Win, to pay the full amount of the bail by March 3.

In fact, the US citizen had already fled the country by the time his appeal to have the case dropped was denied.

“He went to Bangkok through the Thai border in October, and he is now at his home in the United States, receiving medical care for his lung problems,” said the source, referring to the disease Todoroki contracted at Myingyan Prison. The source requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.

The source’s comments confirm an account inan article published by Gen, an online publication. According to Gen, Todoroki fled the country in a pickup truck via a Thai border town in October last year. In the article, the author, who met Todoroki in Colorado in December, writes, “The US Embassy had issued John a new passport (in his own name),” and his fixer paid a Myanmar immigration officer US$300 for a stamp.

When asked for comment, the US Embassy in Yangon told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday: “Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to divulge personal information.”

In the Gen article, Todoroki recalls that after being released on bail he held a meeting with Mandalay Region Chief Minister U Zaw Myint Maung in which he unsuccessfully sought the minister’s intervention in his case. It was U Zaw Myint Maung who had issued a permit to the company in which the US citizen was involved giving it the right to grow cannabis in order to produce CBD, a natural compound found in cannabis plants that is used for medicinal purposes. Todoroki’s company claimed to be producing CBD from hemp, which, unlike marijuana, does not contain sufficient quantities of another compound, THC, to be used as a recreational drug.

According to the Gen article, “[Myanmar’s] 1993 narcotics law that John [Todoroki] had allegedly violated made no distinction between marijuana and hemp, THC and CBD, and so, the minister told him, he would be going back to Myingyan. ‘You’ll be fine in prison, the minister told him.’”

U Thein Than Oo, one of Todoroki’s lawyers, told The Irrawaddy that he lost contact with his client in October last year.

He said that after being bailed out, his client was depressed and showed dissatisfaction with the lawsuit and even said that he could die in prison, if found guilty.

“He said he didn’t understand why things had turned upside down, as the company he works for is legally registered in Myanmar and has official permission to grow hemp,” the lawyer said.

“John told me that he is done with this country and if the court found him guilty, he could die in prison. He was traumatized by the poor hygiene and situation in the prison. I think that’s why he managed an escape plan,” U Thein Than Oo said.

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