U.S. rethinks Konanykhin case
The Moscow Times
January 29, 2004
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.