Deportation threat lifted decisions allow russian to stay in U.S. indefinitely
January 30, 2004
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.