Arbat Prestige Founder Makes Appeal

Vladimir Nekrasov, founder of the decimated cosmetics retailer Arbat Prestige, has asked President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene in the criminal investigation against him, saying investigators are trying to blackmail him into giving evidence against suspected organized crime boss Semyon Mogilevich.

In an open letter to Medvedev, Nekrasov wrote that investigators had offered him freedom in return for giving evidence against Mogilevich, Nekrasov's lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, said Monday. Mogilevich is wanted by the FBI on 2003 charges of fraud and racketeering.

Nekrasov is accused of evading taxes totaling 50 million rubles ($2 million) from 2005 to 2006, while Mogilevich, also known as Semyon Shnaider, purportedly masterminded a strategy for him to avoid taxes.

In the letter, Nekrasov, who has said his company was dismantled in a raider attack, called on Medvedev to fulfill his promise "to reform the court system" and "fight corruption," Izvestia reported on its web site Monday.

Since the two men were arrested in January 2008, Nekrasov's cosmetics giant has fallen into disarray. Arbat Prestige defaulted on credit payments to Sberbank, and the company was forced to turn four of its stores over to Sberbank in a November lawsuit.

Distributors cut off service to Arbat Prestige stores in the fall, and the company closed its final store last month. At the time of Nekrasov's arrest, Arbat Prestige had 98 stores in operation.

A Kremlin spokesman said Monday that he could not confirm whether Medvedev had seen the letter, adding that Nekrasov's case, like any criminal case, would have to be resolved by the court.

Dobrovinsky conceded that it is unlikely Medvedev would intervene in the case. A Moscow court last month ordered Nekrasov and Mogilevich to remain in custody until Jan. 23.