Authorities Seeking Chichvarkin's Arrest

MTFormer Yevroset chairman Yevgeny Chichvarkin sitting for an interview with The Moscow Times last year.
Authorities are seeking the arrest of former Yevroset chairman Yevgeny Chichvarkin, who left the country late last year and has not returned, in connection with allegations of smuggling, kidnapping and extortion.

The Yevroset founder's whereabouts are currently unknown, and speculation has swirled that he will remain abroad permanently given the possibility of arrest in Russia.

The Basmanny District Court on Wednesday is to rule on whether to grant investigators' request to issue a warrant for Chichvarkin's arrest, Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova told The Moscow Times on Friday.

Chichvarkin's lawyer, Yury Gervis, said investigators were seeking his client's arrest as part of a criminal case against two former Yevroset employees, Boris Levin and Andrei Yermilov. Levin and Yermilov were arrested in September on suspicion of smuggling, kidnapping and extortion.

Gervis could not say what specific charges Chichvarkin might face, saying he first needed to study case materials provided by investigators.

Usachyova of the Moscow City Court said she had no information on possible charges against Chichvarkin. A spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, which is investigating the case against Levin and Yermilov, declined to comment Friday.

Chichvarkin's assistant, Natalya Ikonnikova, who answered Chichvarkin's cell phone Friday, told The Moscow Times that her boss was on vacation abroad. She said she did not know which country he was in or when he might return to Russia. Ikonnikova said she learned from the media that investigators wanted to arrest Chichvarkin.

Gervis refused to comment on Chichvarkin's whereabouts but said there was little chance his client would appear at Wednesday's court hearing, "given the current circumstances."

Investigators believe he may be hiding in London, where several Russian businessmen who have fallen out with authorities currently reside, Kommersant reported Friday.

However, an acquaintance of Chichvarkin's told The Moscow Times on Thursday that while the businessman was "somewhere in Europe," he was "certainly not in the U.K." "He will come back soon," the acquaintance said.

Chichvarkin was questioned by investigators in the Levin and Yermilov case after their arrest in September. He has said the two men were arrested in connection with a case involving former employee Andrei Vlaskin, who was charged with reselling phones stolen from shipments to Yevroset. Vlaskin later paid 20 million rubles in damages to settle the case.

Levin, Yermilov and two other Yevroset employees are suspected of kidnapping Vlaskin in 2003 and holding him in a rented apartment until he paid back the money and returned the handsets, Kommersant reported Friday. Chichvarkin has vigorously defended his former employees, saying they are guilty of nothing.

Chichvarkin founded Yevroset in 1997 and subsequently turned it into the country's largest mobile phone retailer. In late September, citing liquidity woes, he sold Yevroset to billionaire Alexander Mamut in a deal that reportedly involved Mamut paying $400 million in cash and assuming $850 million in debt.

Chichvarkin, however, stayed on as chairman of the company until November, when he announced he was stepping down to focus his energy on promoting the Right Cause, a new Kremlin-backed pro-business party, whose Moscow branch he had been tapped to lead.

The party's co-chairman, Leonid Gozman, told The Moscow Times on Friday that the party was ready to support Chichvarkin in his legal battle and that the offer was open for him to head up the party's Moscow branch if he returns to Russia and is not arrested.

"Our decision [to appoint Chichvarkin] doesn't depend on the opinion of investigative bodies," Gozman said.

Gozman called the request for an arrest warrant "yet another example of the onslaught against business" by authorities.

Right Cause leaders said they had not been in contact with Chichvarkin for several weeks. The party's co-chairman, Boris Titov, said Thursday that Chichvarkin went on vacation abroad before New Year’s and that he had not spoken with him since.

State Duma Deputy Igor Lebedev, a senior Liberal Democratic Party official, said Chichvarkin's flirtation with the new Kremlin-backed party was merely an unsucessful attempt to buy political capital in order to ward off criminal prosecution, RIA-Novosti reported Friday.

Chichvarkin last summer participated in the annual party congress of United Russia, which has an overwhelming majority in the Duma and is led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Nadia Popova contributed to this report.