A Russian teenager who came to the US on an exchange is afraid to return to his country, due to its anti-gay laws.

The Russian government announced earlier this month that it had pulled the plug on the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) programme after the teenager refused to return to Russia at the end of the scheme.

Russia’s children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov claimed that the boy – who has not been named – was “handed over to a US gay couple”.

However, Susan Reed of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center told Radio Free Europe that the teen is actually afraid to return home because of the country’s anti-gay laws.

She said: “Our client is afraid of returning to Russia because Russia persecutes gay people. That’s what this is about.

“There’s no adoption, there’s no untoward behaviour.

“He met many caring adults, both gay and straight in the US, and he decided to stay here because he was afraid to go home.”

She also dismissed the Russians’ claims that “there’s some person or some people whose sexual orientation is relevant” to his decision to remain in the US, adding: “That’s just not the case.”