Judge Says U.S. Has Deal with Russia to Deport Banker
January 14, 2004
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday accused the U.S. government of having a special deal with Moscow to deport a former Russian banker and prevent him from exhausting an effort to seek asylum in the United States.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis rebuked the government in a hearing to discuss the deportation of Alexander Konanykhin, who has been seeking political asylum because he says he faces death if he returns to Russia to face embezzlement charges.
"I would hope that some executive branch policy involving some promise, some quid pro quo to the Russian police or executive who wants Mr. Konanykhin ... wouldn't deter our government from honoring ... the heart of an agreement to let him have his asylum claim adjudicated," Ellis said.
Konanykhin has business ties to Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- the billionaire former chief of YUKOS oil company who is in jail in Russia on fraud and tax evasion charges.
Khodorkovsky's arrest is widely viewed as orchestrated by the Kremlin to reign in the billionaire's political ambitions.
Konanykhin, who is wanted in Russia for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars from his former bank, fled Russia in late 1992 and came to the United States. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia.
After a series of legal battles over his status in the United States, Konanykhin was granted asylum in 1999 by an Immigration Court judge who said Konanykhin had demonstrated a "well-founded fear of persecution" if he returned to Russia.
The government appealed and a Justice Department Board of Immigration Appeals overturned the court's decision in November 2003. It ruled that Konanykhin faced no risk of political persecution if he were sent back to Russia.
Konanykhin appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, where it is pending.
While waiting for the appeals court, Konanykhin and his wife tried to go to Canada on Dec. 18 to seek asylum, but were stopped at the border by U.S. officials who arrested him and prepared to deport him. Ellis stayed the deportation just as Konanykhin was about to board a flight to Moscow.
Konanykhin says he cannot be deported under terms of a 1997 deal with immigration authorities which lets him stay in the United States pending final outcome of his asylum request.
Federal prosecutors said Konanykhin had violated the terms of the agreement and therefore could be deported.
Konanykhin claims he abided by the rules.
In court papers, Konanykhin said Russians would torture and kill him and try to extract information about Khodorkovsky.
"Prior to my death, I am sure that I will be tortured in order to produce, from my own mouth, evidence which I know is not true, but which will lead to Mr. Khodorkovsky's illegal conviction and execution," he said in the affidavit.
Ellis will continue hearing arguments on Thursday.