Chichvarkin Goes to Bat for Employees

MTChichvarkin speaking at the company's Moscow headquarters near the Savyolovskaya metro station on Thursday.
Dressed in a hippie-style tunic, white jeans spattered with pastel-colored graffiti and rainbow-striped socks, Yevroset chairman Yevgeny Chichvarkin looked more like a gaucho en route to a siesta than someone defending his employees against charges of extortion and kidnapping.

Chichvarkin, who co-owns the cell phone retailer with Timur Artemyev, took questions Thursday to assert the innocence of Yevroset employees Boris Levin and Andrei Yermilov in light of charges of kidnapping and smuggling filed Wednesday in a Moscow court.

Turning away from the most recent allegations, Chichvarkin spent the first 20 minutes of the news conference recounting a detailed history of Yevroset's legal troubles since the company first faced trouble regarding its employee Andrei Vlaskin five years ago.

In 2003, Vlaskin and others were charged with reselling stolen Yevroset cell phones -- a case Vlaskin settled by paying 20 million rubles in damages.

At Thursday's conference, Chichvarkin said Vlaskin had made part of his payment in property and that it might have been through this transaction that Levin and Yermilov committed a few minor violations, if any, he said.

Such violations, he said, could not be considered grounds for prosecutors' current allegations against the two men.

"We believe that justice and the law is on our side," Chichvarkin said, asserting that Yevroset was ready to present the state with any relevant documents to prove its innocence in the matter.

Speaking from Yevroset's Moscow headquarters -- his customized Soviet-era car, airbrushed with portraits of Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin and 1950s propaganda slogans, parked outside the building -- Chichvarkin spoke in a subdued voice. He resorted to a particular line in answering many of the questions.

"We aren't bandits or thieves," he said repeatedly. "We buy and sell telephones."

Chichvarkin, who was in Novosibirsk when news broke of a raid by prosecutors on Yevroset's Moscow offices late Tuesday, said he had only heard of some of the allegations from his lawyer Thursday morning.

Chichvarkin, 32, said he did not know the name of the second employee being accused and asked his assistant what it was after being prompted by a reporter.

The businessman interrupted the briefing at several points to take calls on a cell phone adorned with a half-dozen trinket key chains. At all other times, the phone was kept in a laced pouch he wore hung around his shoulder.

Ivan Shuvalov, a senior telecoms analyst at Alfa Bank, said he was "absolutely positive" Yevroset would maintain its market dominance in phone retail, a position it achieved, he said, through strong financing, an aggressive marketing strategy and the personalities of the company's owners.

After the prosecutors' raid, speculation swirled that it could be related to a possible sale of Yevroset to a major Russian telecoms company, such as market leader Mobile TeleSystems, owned by the Sistema conglomerate.

Chichvarkin on Thursday said the reports of a possible sale were news to him.

Shuvalov, of Alfa Bank, downplayed the speculation, saying the creation of false allegations against Yevroset would only hurt a prospective buyer of the company.