Major US investor in Russian court over fraud charges

February 17, 2019

Moscow: The US head of a major investment firm appeared in a Moscow court for a detention hearing on Friday after Russia opened a fraud investigation into him and several of his colleagues.Michael...

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Moscow: The US head of a major investment firm appeared in a Moscow court for a detention hearing on Friday after Russia opened a fraud investigation into him and several of his colleagues.

Michael Calvey, the founder of multi-billion-dollar investment fund Baring Vostok, rejected all accusations against him.

"These accusations about Baring Bostok and about myself are not true," the 51-year-old said, adding that he would cooperate fully with any probe.

Investigators asked for Calvey to be held until at least April 13, without bail, as he is a frequent traveller with "considerable resources".

The firm said in a statement that the charges related to a commercial dispute over a Russian bank.

"Baring Vostok believes that the detention of its employees and the charges that have been brought are a result of a conflict with other shareholders of Vostochniy Bank," it said.

"We have full confidence in the legality of our employees´ actions and will vigorously defend their rights."

The firm earlier confirmed that four of its employees had been detained, without providing their names.

Among them was French citizen Phillipe Delpal, who oversees investments in the financial industry for Baring Vostok.

"I strongly object to the request for a detention," Delpal said at a separate detention hearing.

"I have no connection with the alleged crime."

Delpal said he had lived in Moscow for the last 15 years, and has a wife and two daughters in the city.

Two people from other companies had been held in connection to the investigation, agencies reported, citing a court spokesperson.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told news agencies that the foreign investors, if found guilty, should expect to feel the full force of the law.

"If this is a fraud, what can I say: do not violate the law. If the facts are confirmed, no one can spare the perpetrators," he said on the sidelines of an investment forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"Be it a foreigner or a Russian, there is no difference here."

The Baring Vostok fund specialises in private equity investments in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Since 1994 the fund has invested more than $2.8 billion in companies in the region, according to its website.

It employs more than 40 people in Moscow and has invested in major Russian companies including internet giant Yandex, media company CTC and telecommunications firm Golden Telecom.

A source familiar with the investment firm told AFP that the case could be an attempt by a local competitor to damage it.

The source said it would be a "huge surprise" if the charges were founded.

"They´re among the most professional investors in the Russian markets, there´s never been any issues," the source said.

"It´s extremely negative for investment, very damaging."

As well as founding the firm, Calvey is a senior partner.

Before moving to Moscow he worked in London and New York on oil and gas investments for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, according to a biography on the fund´s site.

Calvey is also on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council think tank.

Delpal joined Baring Vostok in 2012 after founding Cetelem Russia, part of the BNP Paribas Group, according to his biography.

The pair are not the first foreign investors to fall foul of the law in Russia.

American-born Bill Browder, once the biggest foreign investor in Russia, faced a string of criminal charges in 2008 after his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky revealed a massive fraud by state officials.

Both were charged with tax fraud, but Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention of untreated health issues.

His case later inspired the US Magnitsky Act intended to blacklist Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses. Browder meanwhile was sentenced in absentia to nine years in jail.

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