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U.S. rethinks Konanykhin case

The Moscow Times

January 29, 2004

By Catherine Belton. Staff Writer

The U.S. Justice Department late Tuesday reversed a decision to deport controversial former banker Alexander Konanykhin back to Russia and said it would reopen hearings into his political asylum case.

The move means Konanykhin, a former business associate of jailed oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and his wife Yelena Gracheva will be able to stay in the United States for as long as the hearings go on, a process that could take many years.

"I'm ecstatic," Gracheva said by telephone from Washington late Tuesday.

"Just [Monday] morning we still could have been put on a plane to Moscow. Now we have several more years to prove our case."

The decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals is an unexpected about-face from its Nov. 20 ruling, which found no basis for Konanykhin's asylum status in the United States and ordered his deportation.

The board said at the time that there was no evidence the Russian justice system was corrupt or could be used as an instrument of political persecution.

Acting on that order, U.S. Homeland Security officials arrested and attempted to deport the Konanykhins to Russia on Dec. 18 as they tried to flee to Canada in a bid, they said, to escape being forcefully returned to Russia.

A federal judge ruled to stay their deportation just minutes before they were to be put on a plane back to Moscow.

Konanykhin arrived in the United States in 1992 to run banking operations for Khodorkovsky there. He claims the attempt to deport him to Russia could be connected to the legal campaign against Khodorkovsky, which many in Moscow see as part of a political power battle between President Vladimir Putin and the businessman.

On Tuesday, the Board of Immigration Appeals said new evidence presented by Konanykhin's attorney on "politically selective" prosecutions in Russia was sufficient grounds to reopen the asylum case.

The case will now return to a Richmond, Virginia, District Court, which granted Konanykhin asylum back in 1999 after protracted legal wrangling over his status in the United States.

Tuesday' s decision comes on top of a ruling by a judge in Alexandria, Virginia, on Monday that the December attempt to deport Konanykhin was unlawful.

The same judge was due to decide later on Wednesday whether Konanykhin should remain in detention.

Banker In Moscow
Russian Immigrant
Russian Banker
Political Asylum Case

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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.
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.
World Economic Forum:
How transparency can help the global economy to grow. By Alex Konanykhin. Countries around the world spend an estimated $9.4 trillion a year on procurement – 15% of global GDP. Indeed, UN figures estimate that public procurement can account for 15-30% of GDP for many countries. However, according to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 10-25% of the value of public contracts is lost to corruption.
The Baltimore Sun:
Business whiz kid.
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.