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"Jury awards $35.5 Million to Russian in libel case"

The Washington Post

December 16, 1999

By Patricia Davis, Washington Post Staff Writer

An Arlington County jury has awarded a $35.5 million judgment to a former Russian citizen who sued the Moscow newspaper Izvestia for libel two years ago when he was living in the Washington area.

Alexander Konanykhine, 33, who was granted political asylum in the United States this year and now lives in New York, told the jury Monday that the paper had falsely described him in 1996 and 1997 as a swindler, a bigamist and a thief and as someone who had bribed a public official.

Because of the defamatory articles, Konanykhine, who is now in the Web graphics business, was not able to get financing or sell stock publicly in this country, his attorney said.

The jury delivered its verdict, believed to be the largest in Arlington history, after deliberating for just nine minutes, said Konanykhine's Washington attorney, J.P. Szymkowicz, who had asked for exactly that amount in compensatory and punitive damages.

He said his client could have sued the paper anywhere it distributes the publication and chose Arlington because Konanykhine was living in the District at the time. A lawsuit against a second Russian publication is pending, the lawyer said.

Izvestia did not respond to the suit and was not represented in Arlington Circuit Court this week. Szymkowicz said that he doubts his client will be able to collect the judgment but that the case was not about money.

"It's a symbolic victory," Szymkowicz said. "He's a good person. As a young successful businessman, he was a target for corrupt people to bring him down."

As he has done numerous times to major national news organizations, Konanykhine gave the following account of his life to jurors.

He was expelled from a prestigious college in Russia by the then-communist regime for having a construction business on the side and being a capitalist, his attorney said. Over the next five years, he went on to establish the largest bank in Russia and other businesses and had a net worth of $300 million, most of which was fixed assets, he said.

He told jurors that the Russian mafia wanted to take over his businesses and that he and his wife eventually fled for their lives to the United States, where he moved into the Watergate in the District and started a new life. He was later arrested by U.S. officials for immigration fraud and jailed for a year but was granted political asylum in February, Szymkowicz said.

Clerk of Court David Bell said the verdict appears to be without precedent. "I've been here for 29 years, and I do not recall anything even close to that," he said.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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Media About Alex

Washington Post:
Konanykhin, one of the first Russian millionaires after the fall of the commies, left in 1992 and was granted asylum here in 1999. He's built a very successful Web advertising business in New York City. He had been chosen "New York Businessman of the Year." "As such, you will be honored and presented with your award," NRCC chairman Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) said, at a "special ceremony" April 1. " President Bush and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are our special invited guests.
CNN:
Alex Konanykhin controlled Russia's largest commercial bank in the 1990s
Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Konanykhin was a whiz-kid physics student who became a pioneering Russian capitalist in early 1990s, building a banking and investment empire valued at an estimated $300 million all by his mid-20s. He was a member of President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle.
The Baltimore Sun:
Business whiz kid.
WJLA TV / ABC:
Russian Bill Gates.
The Times:
By the time he was 25 he was one of the most important figures in post-Communist Russia. But in 1992, while on a business trip to Hungary, Alex Konanykhine was kidnapped.
The New York Times:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation notified Konanykhin that Russian organized crime figures had paid to have him killed.
CBS "60 Minutes":
Alex Konanykhin didn't only have KGB after him… He had the FBI, the Justice Department, even the CIA all on his case, as a favor to the Russians, part of a deal to allow the FBI to keep a bureau in Moscow.
Los Angeles Daily Journal:
Representing himself through much of the process, Konanykhin managed to convince an immigration judge of an alleged INS and KGB conspiracy and cover-up. Following the court's admonishment, the INS agreed to drop all charges and also pay $100,000..The judge also ordered an investigation of the Justice Department. In separate actions, Konanykhine subsequently won multimillion dollar libel judgments against two Russian newspapers. A $100 million lawsuit against the Justice Department is pending, alleging perjury, fraud, torture and witness tampering by U.S government officers on behalf of the Russian Mafia.
Profit Magazine:
Imagine you are a teenage physics genius who quickly amasses a $300 million empire of real estate and banking ventures, has dozens of cars, six hundred employees, several mansions and two hundred bodyguards—but you are nonetheless kidnapped by those you trusted, threatened with torture and death, and have your entire empire stolen from you one dark night in Budapest. You escape with your life by racing through Eastern-block countries and flying to New York on stashed-away passports—only to have the KGB and Russian Mafia hell-bent on your hide and the U.S. government jailing you and conspiring to serve you up into their clutches. All this before your 29th birthday. Sound like a Tom Clancy thriller? No. . . just a slice in the life of Alexander Konanykhine.