Mother's death claimed as murder.
By John Bonar
The focus on corruption within the Russian Ministry of Interior moved to London this week with the opening, and immediate adjournment,of a Westminster Magistrates Court hearing into the extradition of former mobile phone retailer Yevgeny Chichvarkin. Chichvarkin, who fled Moscow for Britain in December 2008, is wanted in Russia on charges of kidnapping.
Chichvarkin, 35, insists he should not be sent back to Russia because someone has murdered his mother and his own life is in danger. 60-year-old Lyudmila Chichvarkina was found covered in blood and bruises on April 3 last year but paramedics ruled that she died of a heart attack and the Investigative Committee, Russia's chief investigative body, initially said it would not conduct a probe because there were no signs of a violent death.
A new investigation was opened Tuesday.
Yevroset chain now part owned by Vimpelcom
Chichvarkin came to London last year after he and his business partner sold the Yevroset chain of mobile phone retailers to fellow businessman Alexander Mamut, owner of the Bookberry retail chain for $1.3 bn. Mobile operator Vimpelcom then bought a 49% stake in the holding company behind Yevroset.
Chichvarkin’s Moscow lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said Tuesday, "There was clear evidence of an attempted murder," saying her body was bruised all over as if she was severely beaten and her clothes and shoes were drenched in blood from head to toe.
In an interview published in the Financial Times on Monday Chichvarkin said the London hearing would allow him to expose the interior ministry in front of the British justice system.
Interior Ministry's Department K under spotlight
“In Russia, corruption is a disease,” he said. “The law is being violated by 20m people working in law enforcement who are not fulfilling their function and living off assets that are stolen from the nation.”
The FT reported that “Mr. Chichvarkin and his supporters say the interior ministry’s economic crimes division, Department K, is behind the charges (against him), seeking revenge after the businessman dared to take it on and exposed corruption.”
Department K is a notorious body in Russia widely thought to be implicated in corruption and extortion in white collar cases including the theft of companies under the control of Hermitage Capital, the investment company. So far they have remained above the law and have not been touched by President Dmitry Medvedev’s anti-corruption drive,
The kidnapping and extortion charges Chichvarkin face date back to 2003 although prosecutors only began their investigation in September 2008. Prosecutors claim a Yevroset vice president and his subordinates kidnapped Andrei Vlaskin, Yevroset's freight transport agent, who they suspected of stealing a large number of handsets. They allegedly kept him in an apartment in a Moscow suburb, demanding that he pay them 10 million rubles ($334,000) — the alleged value of the handsets he had stolen.
At the time Russia’s mobile phone retailers are thought to have imported phones illegally without paying customs tariffs, instead bribing officials to turn a blind eye.
Chichvarkin broke the system, as he sought to clean up Yevroset’s books prior to an IPO.
A few months later Department K officers seized a $20 mn shipment of Motorola phones to Yevroset.
The Financial Times, quoting unnamed sources, said named interior ministry officials worked on both the Motorola case and Chichvarkin’s alleged masterminding of the kidnap and extortion case.
Chichvarkin left Russia in December 2008. A month later a Moscow court charged him in absentia with complicity in the kidnapping and put out an international arrest warrant.
Chichvarkin invokes Magnitsky case
Chichvarkin ramped up the intrigue in May as he claimed that his former business partner, Boris Levin, could be the next to die in jail from inadequate
In a video appeal posted on his blog on the Snob website, Chichvarkin piled the pressure on President Dmitry Medvedev, urging him to intervene in Levin's case.
Chichvarkin also accused a raft of officials of harassing his company and plotting a hostile takeover of Yevroset, the mobile firm he founded.
Appeal to Medvedev over Levin
A suited Chichvarkin appeared stern in the video against the sombre backdrop of London's Houses of Parliament and the River Thames.
Chichvarkin, who fled to the British capital in late 2008, urged Medvedev to look into his case, reiterating claims that Yevroset, along with six other companies, had been targeted in corporate raids by a gang of 11 officials operating out of the Interior Ministry's Department K.
After accusing generals Konstantin Machabel and Boris Miroshnikov of leading the "gang", Chichvarkin accused members of the department of stealing confiscated state property amounting to billions of dollars, as well as inducing the deaths of people close to him.
Chichvarkin claims that Levin, who has contracted hepatitis while in pre-trial detention, is being denied necessary medical attention, effectively holding him "hostage".
Chichvarkin claimed that Levin would suffer the same fate as Magnitsky, unless he is administered the right treatment. Prison deaths leapt back into the public eye earlier this year when businesswoman Vera Trifonova died because her kidney condition and general poor health were allegedly deliberately ignored to coerce her into false testimony.
Levin’s trial is scheduled for this month and the faces of Department K officers will become known as they presumably will give evidence.
On Medvedev’s anti-corruption efforts Chichvarkin says, “Mr. Medvedev personally is sincere. But corruption is stronger.”