Ex-cell phone boss wanted for abduction

The founder of the Euroset mobile phone company, Evgeny Chichvarkin, is on a federal wanted list charged with abduction and extortion.

Fearing the 34-year-old may have fled abroad, prosecutors called for the overseas warrant for his address on Wednesday, a week after a court named the former co-owner of Euroset as a suspect in the case, Kommersant business daily reports.

Chichvarkin, who is believed to be in London, is unavailable for contact.

Anna Usachova, the head of the press-service at Moscow City Court, told Kommersant that the claim for an international warrant would be considered in Basmanny court on January 28.

If the request is granted, Chichvarkin will be put on international wanted list and Russia will seek Chichvarkin’s extradition.

The court is also considering extending the detention of four other suspects in the case. They are: security service vice-president of Euroset, Boris Levin, his deputy, Aleksander Yermilin, as well as employees Sergey Katorgin and Vitaly Tsverkunov. All are accused of abduction and extortion of Andrey Vlaskin – a former shipping agent of the company.

Case facts

The case was detached from the one launched against Euroset in 2005 in connection with illegally importing cell phones. Then, customs police confiscated a large number of cell phones allegedly intended to be sold by major Russian retailers.

After the case was launched, Chichvarkin and his business partner sold the company, against their will. Earlier Evgeny Chichvarkin said the searches conducted at the company’s office may have been the work of corporate raiders who wanted to buy the company at a reduced price.

According to the investigation, at the beginning of 2003 Euroset security employees abducted the company’s shipping agent Andrey Vlaskin. Euroset management suspected him of stealing a large number of cell phones.

The man was allegedly kept in rented apartments. Documents for rent were revealed during a search of the company’s office. Vlaskin was kept there until he agreed to repay the company 20 million rubles. Only after that was he released.

Prosecutors say Chichvarkin authorized the abduction and extortion. They say the money used to pay the rent of the apartments could only have been spent with Chichvarkin’s permission.

The police told Kommersant that Chichvarkin was summoned by the court for questioning several times last month, but the calls were ignored.

After this, Chichvarkin was charged in his absence and put on a federal search list.

Chichvarkin’s defence

Lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov says he knew nothing about the summons to court and expressed doubt that Chichvarkin was unavailable to the police.

He says the investigation is an outrage, with defence lawyers kept in the dark about new developments in the case.

Zherebenkov denies that his client was involved any abduction as “he was responsible for strategic matters in the company”.

Political fallout

Chichvarkin remains responsible for setting up a Moscow branch of Russia’s new opposition party – Right Cause.

However, party officials are expected to consider his replacement on Monday, Right Cause Press Secretary Natalia Shavshukova said.

But Right Cause party members are defending Chichvarkin. The official comment on the party’s web site says the case proves that businesses are still being targeted in Russia.

“The case with Evgeny Chichvarkin confirms that administrative pressure on business proceeds. Instead of considering the situation according to the civil legislation, law enforcement bodies give sanctions on criminal prosecution”.