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    Created the largest bank in Russia by age of 25 before defecting to the United States in 1992 and starting from scratch.

"Federal judge grants Russian banker political asylum"

The Baltimore Sun.

February 23, 1999

By Scott Shane. Sun Staff.

In a ruling that spotlights the corruption of the Russian legal system, a U.S. immigration judge has granted political asylum to a Russian banker accused by Moscow prosecutors of stealing millions from a bank he helped found.

Judge John M. Bryant wrote in his decision that he was convinced by testimony from several experts -- including a former KGB agent and a former Soviet Communist Party official working for the CIA -- that banker Alexandre P. Konanykhine was targeted for prosecution for political reasons.

"Emotionally, we are very happy," said Konanykhine, 32, referring to himself and his wife, Elena Gratcheva, who also was granted asylum.

"It shows a shift of opinion in this country from seeing Russia as a newborn democracy to a more sober view."

Cora Tekach, a lawyer for Konanykhine, said that while Russian Jews fleeing anti-semitism have been granted asylum since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Konanykhine apparently is the first Russian to be granted refuge from political persecution by the post-Communist government of Russia.

"He's probably the first Russian to get asylum from persecution based on his capitalist and democratic views," Tekach said.

Konanykhine started a Moscow construction company in the late 1980s as Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev eased controls on private business.

In the economic free-for-all as Soviet economic institutions crumbled, he built a business empire that included a commodities exchange, a real estate firm, a security agency and other companies.

In 1991, he opened the Russian Exchange Bank, which became one of the first to receive a currency-trading license from the government of Boris N. Yeltsin, whose rise to power Konanykhine had helped finance.

At 25, Konanykhine became a multimillionaire, living in a heavily guarded mansion and being chauffeured in a limousine from Gorbachev's former fleet.

But in late 1992, by Konanykhine's account, former KGB agents he had hired as managers muscled his businesses away from him.

He says he was kidnapped in Budapest, Hungary, in late 1992 but managed to escape with his wife and fly to the United States.

Konanykhine immediately began writing to Russian officials, from Yeltsin down, demanding an investigation.

He got one -- but Russian prosecutors targeted him, accusing him of stealing $8 million from his bank.

He fought back, exposing what he called the Russian "Mafiocracy" in letters and on a Web site.

In 1996, in cooperation with Russian prosecutors, U.S. immigration agents arrested Konanykhine at his Watergate apartment in Washington.

The same year, Bryant ruled against Konanykhine, denying him asylum.

But his luck turned when a federal judge, acting on evidence of misconduct by Immigration and Naturalization Service attorneys, ordered him freed after 13 months in a Virginia jail.

An internal Justice Department probe of the INS lawyers' conduct is continuing.

Because of the misconduct allegations, the INS agreed to return the case to Bryant.

For a week in December, Bryant heard from experts on Russian politics, crime and justice, including the former Soviet officials and a former top FBI expert on Russian organized crime.

The new testimony persuaded Bryant to reverse his earlier ruling.

He wrote in a 25-page opinion filed Friday that Russian prosecutors "engineered the case against" Konanykhine "in order to punish him for exposing corruption amongst Russian government and business officials."

Russ Bergeron, a spokesman for the INS, declined to comment on the ruling except to say that INS lawyers are reviewing the decision and deciding whether to file an appeal.

Moscow Prosecutors
Banker In Moscow
Russian Immigrant
Russian Banker
U.s. Immigration Judge
Political Asylum

More News...

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.
The Sun:
Alex Konanykhin fled Russia in 1992 and won asylum in the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The entrepreneur had set up 100 different companies in Russia and had an estimated net worth of $300million by the time he was 25. He is regarded as one of the first Russian millionaires after the fall of the Iron Curtain. One of the newly open country's leading lights, he even met with US President George HW Bush in 1991 on a joint visit with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. However, he was then kidnapped in 1992 while visiting Budapest and all of his business assets were seized in Russia. … Being hunted by the Russian state, Konanykhin won asylum in the US in 1997 and set up a new life - but the shadow of the Kremlin continued to loom over him.He went on to rebuild a business empire and set up multimillion dollar firms such as TransparentBusiness in the US.
The Deal:
... a New York-based software startup called TransparentBusiness Inc. has drawn backing from Fortune 500 executives through a relatively new type of securities offering called 506(c) as part of an effort to raise $10 million this year ... Alex Konanykhin, CEO of TransparentBusiness, said he decided to reach out directly to accredited investors by purchasing ads in financial publications. One particularly bold ad includes the figure, 90,000%, with a question mark next to it. Konanykhin said the ad speaks to the large market opportunity for his company's software, which helps governments eliminate fraud by verifying billable hours charged by outside contractors. ... One of the investors, Ken Arredondo, told The Deal he invested in TransparentBusiness and agreed to serve on its board of directors because of the company's strong management team and the huge market opportunity to increase transparency of outsourced contracts worldwide. He believes in the company's product and said it's unique. "It's a Saas-based, easy-to-use tool," he said. "There are a lot of technology players out there that are a lot bigger, but none of them have what they have. There will be competition, but they have the product now. They have first-mover advantage."
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.
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.