A man wanted by the FBI on charges that he assaulted police officers at the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has fled to Belarus and is trying to claim political asylum there, local media reported.
The man, Evan Neumann, who according to a filing March 23 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is wanted on six criminal charges, told a state-run TV news channel in Belarus on Monday that he is escaping persecution. The charges also include disorderly conduct and violently entering the Capitol building.
Neumann, who according to the court filing is from Mill Valley, California, said in the interview that his attorney had advised him to travel to Europe for business.
Neumann said he traveled to Italy in March and then made his way to Ukraine. After some months there, he said, Ukrainian security officials started to follow him, prompting him to walk over the border into Belarus, where he was detained by border guards.
"It’s terrible. It is a political persecution, not a criminal investigation, but political persecution," Neumann said of the charges.
"I do not consider myself having inflicted any harm," he said. "One of the charges was particularly insulting, namely that I hit a police officer. This has no grounds at all."
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether the government plans to grant asylum to Neumann.
According to the Justice Department document, as a mob of Donald Trump's supporters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 to halt the electoral vote count and overturn President Joe Biden’s victory, a man recorded on video and identified as Neumann pushed a barricade into officers and punched officers before asking, "I’m willing to die, are you?"
The Justice Department has laid out charges against hundreds of people from nearly every state, while the House committee investigating the attack has interviewed more than 150 people and issued subpoenas to several former Trump associates.
The FBI confirmed to NBC News that Neumann is still a wanted man.
Neumann said in the TV interview that he encountered all manner of hazards in his journey on foot to Belarus.
"I was moving very fast. I fell into some quicksand once and it was very — a challenge to get out from it," he said. "I have seen wild boars, stumbled upon snakes — vipers in August are very aggressive. Swamps, boars, snakes, quagmires, all this was new to me, of course."
The court filing says Neumann’s LinkedIn profile said he "participated in the Ukrainian Orange revolution" in 2004 and 2005, when mass protests followed claims that a presidential election was beset with fraud and malpractice.
Neumann did not respond to a request for comment on LinkedIn.
Tim O’Connor, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy for Belarus, which is based in Vilnius, Lithuania, said in a statement: "We have seen Belarusian state media reporting about Mr. Neumann. Due to U.S. privacy laws, we are limited in what we can say about individual U.S. citizens."
He added: "The United States condemns the Lukashenko regime for its brutal measures against members of civil society, the media, athletes, students, legal professionals, and other citizens."
Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has accused the U.S. of orchestrating attempts to depose him and his government.
The U.S. and many European states, which have repeatedly criticized Belarus and Lukashenko, imposed economic sanctions over Lukashenko’s handling of a disputed presidential election last year. Often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko has been in power for 27 years.
A popular post-election protest movement calling for democracy and accountability in Belarus was met with a brutal crackdown, widespread detentions and allegations of summary beatings.