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Deportation threat lifted decisions allow russian to stay in U.S. indefinitely

Washington Post

January 30, 2004

By Jerry Markon. Washington Post Staff Writer

A jet-setting Russian businessman and political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin has won two rounds in his battle against the U.S. government's efforts to send him back to his native land.

Late Wednesday, a federal judge in Alexandria released Alexandre Konanykhine from jail. On Tuesday, a Justice Department appeals panel that had ordered him deported to Russia reversed itself and said he should get a new hearing. The ruling effectively sends the eight-year-old case back to the beginning -- and allows Konanykhine and his wife to stay in the United States indefinitely.

"This is a dream come true for the Konanykhines. It allows them to begin their asylum proceedings anew and should permit them to remain in the U.S. for many years, if not forever," said J.P. Szymkowicz, an attorney for Konanykhine and his wife, Elena Gratcheva.

Konanykhine, who is staying in Vienna, said yesterday that he is "very grateful. I'm so glad the courts could interfere and that justice prevailed."

Garrison Courtney, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the government is "obviously at the will of the judges and the courts, and we will respect their decisions." The agency had been prepared this week to deport Konanykhine immediately if a judge had agreed.

A former Internet banker who came to the United States with his wife in 1993, Konanykhine was arrested in his Watergate co-op apartment in June 1996 and charged with immigration fraud. The Russian government demanded his extradition on embezzlement charges.

Konanykhine has had dealings with opponents of Putin and contends that he and his wife would be killed if sent home. By pursuing the deportations, the couple contends, the U.S. government is helping Putin's efforts to suppress dissent. U.S. officials deny the case has political overtones.

An immigration judge in 1999 granted the couple political asylum, but that decision was overturned by the Justice Department panel in November. On Dec. 18, Konanykhine and his wife were pulled from their vehicle at a toll booth near the border with Canada, where they were hoping to seek asylum.

But minutes before they were to be put aboard a flight to Moscow, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered a stay of the deportation. He then held a series of hearings before releasing Konanykhine.

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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.