"Konanykhine wins U.S. court battle"
February 23, 1999
Probe of Government Lawyers' Ties with Russian Mafia A-Newswire,
BALTIMORE, February 23. "In a ruling that spotlights the corruption of the Russian legal system, a U.S. immigration judge has granted political asylum to a Russian banker accused by Moscow prosecutors of stealing millions from a bank he helped found" Baltimore Sun reported on February 23, 1999.
In his 25- page decision Judge John M. Bryant's wrote that Russian prosecutors "engineered the case against [Konanykhine] ... in order to punish him for exposing corruption amongst Russian government and business officials."Incredibly, a year and a half ago the very same judge denied Konanykhine's application for asylum and ordered that Konanykhine should remain in jail pending his deportation to Russia.
The Konanykhine Story
Alexandre Konanykhine, 32, was an honor student at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Having graduated in 1986, Alexandre successfully avoided being drafted into the Soviet Army and serving in Afghanistan. Having taken full advantage of Gorbachev's perestroyka in the early 1990s, Konanykhine became one of the first Russian entrepreneurs, amassing tremendous personal wealth. By age 25, he owned dozens of commercial enterprises including commodity and currency exchanges and one of Russian first privately owned commercial banks, a so called Pan-Russian Exchange Bank. He became one of the most influential people in Russia, enjoying intimately friendly relationship with top members of the Russian government and was part of Boris Yeltsin's entourage during the Russian president's 1992 visit to Washington. However, exactly at that time the trouble in paradise had begun and when Konanykhine apparently engaged in hostilities with KGB officers he had hired as krysha to protect his bank from the Russian mob.
Amid the disintegration of the USSR the Soviet Communist Party using its loyal KGB agents, smuggled hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country to secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Cayman Islands and other "safe havens". Konanykhine's bank had been used to funnel the money looted from the Russian treasury offshore. Alexandre was too young and, his business acumen notwithstanding too idealistic. He sent a letter about the loot to President Boris Yeltsin. This ended his friendship with the ex-Communist bosses who ordered him neutralized. Targeted by the Russian Mafia assassins working in tandem with KGB, he and his wife, Elena Gratcheva, fled to the United States, and asked for political asylum. For a while Konanykhine thought himself safe in the United States. However this was not what corrupt Russian officials had in mind. Konanykhine's knew too much and had to be "taken out". After Konanykhine escaped assassination in Budapest, ordered by the former Communist leaders, Russian prosecutors and the KGB hastily fabricated criminal charges of a theft of $8 M from his former bank and vowed to hunt him down and have him returned to Moscow where he could be "dealt with". At the age of 29, Alexandre became the Russia's 11 "most wanted". In 1996, a former shadowy Soviet era KGB operative, Lt.Colonel Alexander Volevodz, was envoyed to the US, armed with credentials of Russian military prosecutor - to lobby for Konanykhine's extradition.
"Not even in his worst nightmares did I anticipate", said Konanykhine, "that the US Government would join forces with corrupt Russian prosecutors and KGB agents to ensure my extradition to a virtually certain death. "In mid 1996 a joint task force consisting of agents of KGB, FBI and INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service of the US Department of Justice) raided his Watergate apartment in Washington, DC and dragged him and his wife to jail. Shortly thereafter the INS convened news conference and presented his arrest as their "major contribution to fighting international crime", and even awarded a shadowy KGB Colonel Volevodz with Certificate of Appreciation. At the same time, gloating Russian Prime Minister, Victor Chernomyrdin, joyfully told reporters that Russia convinced the Americans to extradite Konanykhine back home where he'll be "dealt with." "Words cannot describe the horror I and my wife went through when we discovered that FBI and INS agents worked as proxy for former KGB officers in the Russian Mafia trying to have me extradited to Russia by extra - legal means - where we would certainly be murdered."
After his arrest Alexandre spent thirteen months in federal prison, while the officials of the US Department of Justice worked closely with the Russian operatives in preparing the case to have him extradited to Russia where his assassination would be all but certain. The INS actually hired Volevodz, to help fabricate a case against Konanykhine. Acting now on the authority of the US Government, the Russian KGB sleuth, on the US taxpayers payroll, interviewed and intimidated witnesses, while his KGB subordinates were permitted to conduct surveillance in Washington D.C., to make a search in the Watergate building, and to copy secret US government files. Evidence presented in the US Federal Court shows that the Department of Justice even paid for their family vacations in the USA.
Initially, the INS - KGB plot appeared to be successful. By concealing evidence and via use of fabricated testimony, the INS convinced Judge Bryant to deny Alexandre's application for political asylum, and order him deported. Konanykhine fought back, filing appeals and starting an Internet home page where he meticulously documented the entire chain of events pertaining to his case and described the conspiracy to illegally deport him to Russia where he would be most likely murdered.
On March 31, 1997, Konanykhine, while still incarcerated in Winchester, VA, representing himself, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria Division). In his petition Konanykhine argued that his incarceration and prosecution was a product of on going conspiracy between the INS and Russian authorities to unlawfully extradite him to Russia. He also alleged that he was denied due process of law; subjected to a cruel and unusual punishment; improperly placed under exclusion and consequently incarcerated; and improperly denied release on bond. On April 19, 1997, Konanykhine, also acting pro se, filed with the same court a motion for prosecutorial inquiry, The motion charged that in the course of handling his case agents of the Washington District Office of Immigration and Naturalization, namely, District Counsel Rosas, Special Agent Trent, ADDI Goldman, acting in concert with Russian KGB operative, Lt.Colonel Volevodz had committed various criminal acts, including conspiracy to kill, or injure persons in a foreign country (a felony under 18USC§956); torture (as defined in 18USC§2340); tampering with and retaliating against witnesses for giving truthful evidence; attempted murder; deprivation of civil rights under color of law, and racketeering activity, perjury; fraud upon the Court; fraud upon the United States; conspiracy to defraud the United States; and giving conflicting testimony on separate occasions as to the same matter.
Evidence presented by Konanykhine reveals the INS prosecutors working with the KGB agents fabricated a charge of "visa violations". However, the conspiracy began tumbling when INS hired as its expert Yuri Shvets, a former agent of Russian foreign intelligence service who was given political asylum in the U.S. in 1995. Shvets, who knew colonel Volevodz personally from "the old days" apparently balked when he was asked by Immigration officials to testify against Konanykhine. He told INS that the documents produced by his ex-colleague were part of a cover-up to protect the KGB loot. He then was immediately advised by INS assistant counsel Deborah Todd that his testimony would not be needed. Todd also discouraged him from writing a report because if he did "we will have to attach it to our file." Shvets later testified that INS District Counsel Eloise Rosas explained to Shvets that "The INS got instructions from the top to cooperate on this case." How high is "the top" and what motives the DOJ and the INS had to aid and abet the Russian Mafia and former KGB tandem remains cryptic. Konanykhine believes that conspiracy goes to the very top. Corrupt Russians bankers contributed to Democratic party - receiving in exchange billions through World Bank and IMF "loans" which were promptly funneled to clandestine Swiss bank accounts.
Evidence also shoes that during the preparation of Konanykhine's case, Antoinette Rizzi, the INS prosecutor, assigned to handle the deportation, became troubled with the INS willingness to bend rules in order to accommodate the Russian prosecutors. However when she shared her concerns with her superior, Eloise Rosas, she was immediately reassigned. Rizzi tried complain to DOJ's top officials, including its general counsel David Martin, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility Michael Shaheen and inspector general, Michael Bromwich. These complaints resulted in her being asked to resign. When Rizzi declined she was promptly fired for some "unpaid arrearage" in her taxes. Rizzi testified that the case against Alexandre was initiated for political reasons and that INS committed perjury to please KGB officials. Shvets also testified and established that KGB Colonel Volevodz fabricated the case against me to cover up theft of hundred million dollars committed by top KGB officers, and that INS officials, in their quest to accommodate newfound Russian "friends" concealed these findings. In addition the INS District Counsel admitted that the US agency conspired with Colonel Volevodz to make witnesses "unavailable". KGB and INS agents acting as a team coerced witnesses, says Alexandre, pressured, arrested, deported and intimidated all those who could give testimony which would be favorable to him, including shooting point -blank a brother of a key witness.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III agreed that Konanykhine had "demonstrated a significant likelihood of success on the merits of the habeas petition." Judge Ellis also found a "significantly strong basis" for argument that INS acted for reasons other than public interest, but for the ulterior motive, to wit to deliver Konanykhine to the Russians in the absence of extradition treaty. The Judge also indicated that a probability existed that the INS had not offered a bona fide reason for refusing to grant asylum to Konanykhine and that the INS determination may well have been "significantly infected by fraud from the Russian military prosecutor, so as to undermine any factual basis relied on." Granting Konanykhine's Habeas Corpus petition Judge Ellis said that he the witness' testimonies were "somewhat disturbing", because they appeared to show that INS lied to the court. "Congress did not intend for foreign powers to pull the strings" of immigration procedures, he said, "I was repeatedly assured that there was no desire by the INS to deliver Mr.Konanykhine to the Russians." Judge also ordered the Justice Department to Department of Justice to conduct an internal investigation of their employees' conduct in this case and warned that if not satisfied with DOJ's internal probe he would use "the resources of this court." "What I'm interested in now is whether a misrepresentation has been made to this court" [by INS lawyers] said Judge Ellis "We're going to get to the bottom of this".
Following Judge Ellis' decision and his stern admonishment, INS entered into stipulation with Konanykhine, agreeing to drop all charges against him and also agreed to pay $100,000 in legal fees to Konanykhine's pro bono counsel, a Washington law firm of Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn. Judge Ellis approved the settlement and ordered Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer to report within 30 days as regards the internal probe by the Department of Justice of the TNS lawyers' conduct.
Following his release from prison Konanykhine, in November of 1997 filed a $100 million lawsuit filed in federal court charging conspiracy between the Department of Justice and the Russian Mafia. The lawsuit alleges that specific officials of the U.S. Government, acting in concert with the Russian organized crime figures engaged in perjury, fraud, obstruction of justice, torture and witness tampering. August 25 and September 1 issues of the Washington Weekly, the horrible and illegal methods employed by the U.S. government against Mr. Konanykhine and his wife were revealed.
On February 19, 1999, Judge Bryant, having reviewed thousands of documents and listened to numerous witnesses found that Judge Bryant indicated that he was persuaded by credible testimonies that Alexandre Konanykhine was targeted for prosecution for political reasons. Russ Bergeron, said that INS is considering whether or not to appeal the court's decision, but declined further comment. Konanykhine's lawyer Cora Tekach, who represented him in Immigration Court, said in an interview with Baltimore Sun reporter "[Konanykhine] is probably the first Russian to get asylum from persecution based on his capitalist and democratic views." Konanykhine said to the SUN that Judge Bryant's decision "shows a shift of opinion in this country from seeing Russia as a newborn democracy to a more sober view."