A Russian legislator now living in the U.S., who says he fears he will be killed if he returns home, on Wednesday denounced a vote in Russia's parliament authorizing his arrest in a $65 million fraud and embezzlement case. The vote came during a visit to Russia by Vice President Joe Biden.
Ashot Egiazaryan (Ah-shawt Yeh-gee-ah-zar-ee-AHN) charged in a statement that Russia's Duma circumvented constitutional procedures in the vote, and he accused his foes of using "black propaganda" and fabricating criminal charges against him. The RIA Novosti news service reported that the measure passed 377-38.
Egiazaryan has told The Associated Press that he is considering asking for asylum in the U.S. But given the allegations he has made against influential figures in Russia, the Obama administration may find it awkward to let him stay. The U.S. needs Moscow's help in everything from enforcing sanctions against Iran to shipping supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Shortly after the lawmaker fled to the United States in September, he and several co-plaintiffs filed a $2 billion lawsuit in a Cyprus court against Russian tycoon Suleiman Kerimov and a number of other wealthy Russians _ including Arkady Rotenberg, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's former judo sparring partner.
In his suit, Egiazaryan alleged that the defendants used extortion to force him to surrender his major stake in the Moskva Hotel, which sits on a prime piece of real estate a short walk from the Kremlin. Kerimov and the other defendants deny the charges.
After the Cyprus court granted Egiazaryan's request to freeze about $6 billion in Kerimov's assets, prosecutors in Moscow lodged criminal charges against the lawmaker. The Duma, the lower house of parliament, later stripped Egiazaryan of legislative immunity and prosecutors froze all of his assets in Russia.
The Cyprus judge granted a defense motion to lift the freeze on Kerimov's assets Feb. 15. Two weeks later, Egiazaryan's lawyers appealed the ruling to Cyprus' Supreme Court.
Egiazaryan has said that he and his family have been subjected to death threats and claims that the slaying of one of his relatives was connected to the Moskva case.
William Browder, an American-born investor and outspoken critic of the Russian government, recently said that the Russian criminal justice system is so corrupt, "it's impossible to know who is a criminal and who isn't."
Browder has lobbied for a law that would impose economic sanctions and deny U.S. visas to Russian officials implicated in the death of one of his lawyers, Sergei Magnitski. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 after accusing several officials of tax fraud and died a year later I npretrial detention after being denied medical treatment.
During his visit, Biden called on Moscow to eradicate endemic corruption and improve its legal system.
Egiazaryan is a member of the Duma faction of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. RIA Novosti reported that the party's flamboyant leader, Vladimir Zhirinovski denounced Wednesday's vote.
"There is no crime," RIA Novosti quoted Zhirinovksi as saying. "He did right to flee and (it) is right that he is not coming back. You'll never catch Egiazaryan. And the U.S. will be on his side."