"Russian fights deportation in tale of money, the mob"
The Associated Press. USA Today
December 2, 1996
WASHINGTON -- It's a tale worthy of a spy novel, the judge said.
Millionaire Russian Alexandre Konanykhine sits in a U.S. federal prison in northern Virginia, fighting deportation because he fears the mafia will kill him if he goes home.
His wife, Elena Gratcheva, lives with her cat and a few pieces of furniture in the couple's $300,000 Washington condo near the Potomac, visiting her husband once a week.
The case has raised questions about how extensively organized crime controls business in Russia, and how much of a threat corruption poses to Russia's democracy.
Michael Maggio, Konanykhine's attorney, calls it "the wildest case I have ever handled in 18 years."
Four months ago, Konanykhine, 30, lived a Russian yuppie's wildest dream. He had a well-paying job, an office near the White House and an apartment in the exclusive Watergate complex.
Now he's accused by Russian authorities of embezzling $8 million from the Moscow bank he founded. A U.S. appeals court, probably next year, is expected to decide whether he should be extradited.
Konanykhine says he will be killed if he returns, in part because he campaigned against organized crime in Russia. Indeed, an FBI agent testified at a hearing that Russian criminals in New York took out a "contract" on Konanykhine and that Russian gangs once tried to kidnap him.
But Immigration and Naturalization Service prosecutor Eloise Rosas said at a July hearing that allowing Konanykhine to stay in the USA would be a "travesty of justice," considering that he's a "fugitive from justice, a draft dodger, a tax evader and a deadbeat dad."
An immigration judge who denied Konanykhine's request in September for political asylum has twice referred to possible Tom Clancy story lines. Russia and the United States have no extradition treaty, so the judge ordered the couple deported.
In an appeal, Maggio argued that the INS case relied too heavily on "questionable and sometimes fabricated evidence."
Konanykhine dropped out of college in the mid-1980s to become an entrepreneur and built a banking, stock, real estate and currency and commodity trading empire that he said was worth $300 million.
At the deportation hearing, he testified that he had achieved such prominence that he was selected to travel with Russian President Boris Yeltsin on his first official visit to the United States in the summer of 1992.
But when KGB agents he hired to protect him from Russian organized crime demanded more money, he said he fled first to Hungary, then to the USA. Here, he set up a subsidiary of one of his Russian firms. Konanykhine said he also began an anti-corruption campaign, writing letters to Russian officials and eventually a personal appeal to Yeltsin. Prosecutor Alexandre Volevodz replied, asking for details, then began investigating.
Russian authorities charge that Konanykhine also had been embezzling from his bank. But Konanykhine contends that he wired money to private accounts merely to prevent it from being stolen and says his former Moscow employees are out to get him.
Konanykhine said by telephone recently he sees little hope in winning his appeal.
"This case," he said, "is bigger than just me."