No Russian businessman can rise to the top without connections in the government.
But when these connections fail to secure immunity from the law, the Russian government can take on a new role in the businessmen’s narrative—that of persecutor, used as grounds to request political asylum in the West.
In the past few months alone, there have been two such claims: one by Elena Baturina, wife of former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and the other by State Duma deputy Ashot Yegiazaryan.
After being questioned by the prosecutor’s office with regard to several cases, Baturina hastened to claim government persecution. Yegiazaryan took things even further: Accused of fraud and stripped of his immunity by the Duma, the deputy dubbed himself “the next Khodorkovsky,” claiming he was being persecuted for his political beliefs.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s lawyers have commented that they do not consider Yegiazaryan a political figure.
“To the best of my knowledge, Yegiazaryan has never engaged in any political activity; political activity is not characteristic of him,” said Yuri Schmidt, an attorney for Khodorkovsky. “I know absolutely nothing about his political activity…” said Vadim Klyuvgant, another member of Khodorkovsky’s defence team.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the eccentric head of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, of which Yegiazaryan is a member, believes that Yegiazaryan will never be caught, and the U.S. is on his side, reports the Associated Press.
But the Russian prosecutor’s office has received the approval from the Duma for its arrest of Yegiazaryan, and will possibly request to extradite him from the U.S. That would be the first extradition in recent history of a Duma deputy accused of fraud to Russia.
Thus far, Yegiazaryan’s attempts to call himself a human rights activist have been met with scepticism on the part of Russian human rights activists. The presidential council released an official statement declaring that they have no knowledge of any work by Yegiazaryan in the realm of human rights or charity.
We will continue to follow this story as it develops.
By Tatyana Foley, Russia! magazine
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