Back in the US, actor who lived the 'Midnight Express' nightmare

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The Independent US

The family of the Hollywood screen and television actor, Erik Aude, was celebrating his return home to Los Angeles yesterday from almost three years spent in a Pakistani prison for drug smuggling. The nightmare for Mr Aude, 24, ended as his plane landed at Los Angeles airport late on Boxing Day where he was met by his mother, Sherry Aude, and his manager, Richard Murphy. The actor, who had a part in the film, Dude, Where's My Car?, and a popular US sitcom, hopes to return to work shortly.

"It's such a relief to be home," the actor, who has a following among younger American film-goers, said in a brief telephone interview from the airport with the Reuters news agency.

His experience might have been taken from the script of Midnight Express, the 1978 cult classic about an American incarcerated in dire conditions in Turkey after being convicted of the same charge.

He was arrested at Islamabad airport in February 2002 when security agents discovered 8lb of opium in a lining of his suitcase. He was sentenced to seven years in prison by a Pakistani judge in January 2003. He was incarcerated in a prison in the city of Rawalpindi.

In Los Angeles and Washington, the case became a minor cause célèbre as Sherry Aude managed a campaign to have her son freed, insisting that he had been set up to act as a courier for a drugs smuggler without his consent. A US congressman from California, Howard McKeon, was among the people waiting at the airport to greet the actor on his return.

"You really have no idea how lucky we are as Americans. We live like kings," Mr Aude told reporters. "I'm lucky to be here on American soil and I'll never take advantage of that again."

The trouble started for Mr Aude after he met someone in Pakistan who claimed he needed help delivering samples of leather to the United States. Mr Aude agreed to carry the consignment, unaware, his mother said, that it contained a concealed amount of opium

Mrs Aude said that a Pakistani judge commuted her son's sentence to time served after the man who hired him, Razmik Minasian, was arrested in the United States on smuggling charges. He admitted in a deposition that he had lied to Mr Aude and never told him the truth about what he was taking to America.

While the actor would not talk about his prison ordeal, his mother said he had lost 40lb behind bars and had been beaten by other inmates who included members of al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.