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Analysis & Opinion
12.05.10 Throwing Down The Gauntlet Of Liberalism
By Tom Balmforth

The web of intrigue in Yevgeny Chichvarkin’s case continued to weave in and out of major Russian news scandals yesterday, as he claimed that his former colleague Boris Levin could be the next to die in jail from inadequate medical attention. In an Alexander Dymovsky-style appeal yesterday the telecoms tycoon piled the pressure on President Dmitry Medvedev, urging him to intervene in Levin’s case. Chichvarkin also named a raft of officials guilty of harassing his company and plotting a hostile takeover of Yevroset. Although the fate of Dymovsky’s YouTube appeals does not bode well for Chichvarkin, the businessman in exile may just have timed his video to perfection.

It was a stern Yevgeny Chichvarkin who appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev in a seven minute 30 second-long video address posted on his blog on the Snob Web site. And London’s Houses of Parliament and Thames River made for an uncharacteristically somber backdrop to the coiffed and suited Chichvarkin, who is better remembered in Russia as the “mulleted” flamboyant owner of Yevroset mobile phone retailer.

The telecoms tycoon, who fled Russia for London as a wanted man in late 2008, yesterday urged Medvedev to look into his case, reiterating claims that Yevroset, along with six other companies, has been targeted in corporate raids by a gang of 11 officials, operating out of a branch of the Interior Ministry. “I blame this gang for the raid of Yevroset, the purpose of which was to confiscate the company, or at least to nullify its value,” he said.

After detailing the hierarchy of what he described as Department “K,” which puts General Konstantin Machabel and General Boris Miroshnikov at the top as “gang leaders,” he accused members of “K” of stealing confiscated state property amounting to billions of dollars, as well as inducing the deaths of people close to Chichvarkin.

Chichvarkin himself is wanted in Russia for abducting Andrei Vlaskin, Yevroset’s freight transport agent, in 2003, and violently coercing him into paying back in excess of the money he had stolen in handsets from the company. Moscow filed an extradition request for Chichvarkin last June, but the British Crown Prosecution Service has put the decision on hold until August this year.

Boris Levin, Yevroset’s vice-president, is currently being detained for the abduction of Vlaskin, but both Chichvarkin and Levin deny allegations and say the case against them is “fabricated.” “Levin and his subordinates didn’t commit any of the grave offenses which they are accused of…[and] I didn’t do anything I am accused of…[This] brings shame not only on the Russian justice system, but on the country as a whole,” Chichvarkin said again yesterday.

Furthermore, Chichvarkin claims that Levin, who has contracted hepatitis whilst in a pretrial detention center, is being denied the necessary medical attention, effectively holding him “hostage” in order to emotionally blackmail Chichvarkin for the money he received when he sold Yevroset.

According to Chichvarkin, Levin will suffer the same fate as Sergey Magnitsky, who died last November in Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina pretrial detention center, unless he is administered the right treatment. Prison deaths leapt back into the public eye last week when Vera Trifonova died because her kidney condition and general poor health were deliberately ignored in order to coerce her into false testimony.

Chichvarkin’s appeal was met with cynicism as to its ability to generate any reaction. “Yevgeny, do you seriously think that this is going to change anything?” a video appeal viewer wrote on Chichvarkin’s LiveJournal blog yesterday. But the appeal does seem to have gotten the ball rolling, if only with Levin’s case. The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) yesterday confirmed that it was investigating “statements in the mass media about the poor health of the vice president of Yevroset, Boris Levin,” RIA Novosti reported.

Speaking to the Kommersant news daily, Marat Faizullin, Levin’s lawyer, confirmed that his client is indeed in need of medical attention. But Yuri Gervis, Chichvarkin’s laywer, told Russia Profile that he still has doubts that the PGO statement is any guarantee that progress will be made. “It’s a question of what’s going to be checked out and what conclusions they arrive at. That is to say it’s a question of whether they do an all-encompassing investigation, or whether it’s just a formal one,” said Gervis.

Whether anything will actually be done is the “million dollar question,” but “Chichvarkin has definitely chosen his moment well,” said Alexander Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information. “The fact that Chichvarkin has come out with this now shows that he is clearly watching events in Russia extremely closely. It also shows that he is really good at PR,” said Mukhin.

According to Chichvarkin, his case finds itself conveniently at the nexus of a host of prominent Russian news scandals. Writing for Novaya Gazeta in March earlier this year, Chichvarkin claimed that the reason that police superintendant Denis Yevsyukov went on his shooting rampage in an inner Moscow supermarket in April of 2009 was actually inextricably connected to his own case. Just before his drunken killing spree, Yevskyukov, so goes the version, received a phone call informing him that he was being investigated for corruption against Chichvarkin. Apparently this was the last straw.

Chichvarkin makes no mention of this in his video post yesterday. But Mukhin said that the release yesterday of the video post on Snob was deliberately timed to follow the death of Vera Trifonova. “After the death of Magnitsky, and Vera Trifonova, a third death would be a fateful blow to the president’s credentials as a liberal,” said Mukhin.
Both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Medvedev have indicated their willingness to run for president in 2012, but have so far have insisted that they are going to “sit down and decide who will run.” Recently two exiled Russian businessmen, Mikhail Gutseriyev and Telman Ismailov, have returned to Russia, but both on Putin’s orders.

Rehabilitating Chichvarkin would help Medvedev to salvage his liberal reputation, which has been undermined by the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case. But doing so is far from easy because Chichvarkin has become even more of a “persona non grata” in Russia after he named the various officials implicated in hostile takeovers, meaning that Medvedev would have to personally take him under his wing, said Mukhin. “The moment of truth has arrived for Dmitry Medvedev. If he really does want to be playing in the presidential elections in 2012, then he has to take up Chichvarkin’s offer. This will be a very elucidating step for the whole country: it will reveal Medvedev’s political orientation.”
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