Police Put End to Playboy's Party

Tall and handsome, he was known to frequent the Moscow club scene, sniffing out well-do-do expats and Russians alike to strike up friendships.

But for Gennady Vostretsov, an alleged conman accused of defrauding victims of millions of dollars on both sides of the Atlantic, the party seems to be over after almost 10 years on the run.

Vostretsov, 42, was arrested in December and charged with defrauding a Krasnodar-based firm called C-Trade of $2.7 million in the early 1990s.

He was arrested at a Moscow apartment by the Interior Ministry's North Caucasus investigation department, which oversees the Krasnodar region, and taken to the department's headquarters at Nalchik in the southern republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. He was later released on the condition he not leave Nalchik, department spokesman Tamirlan Kazikhanov said.

Kazikhanov said that at the time of the arrest, Vostretsov was living under an alias with British movie producer John Daly, whose films include "Terminator," "Hoosiers" and "The Last Emperor."

Vostretsov apparently met Daly in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s.

In the Moscow apartment, investigators found three passports with false names, tens of credit cards from prominent Western banks and photographs of Vostretsov with movie directors Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone, Kazikhanov said.

Investigators were struck more by Vostretsov's personality, however, than by his possessions.

"He has amazing skills," said Kazikhanov, who was present at the time of the arrest. "He is understanding and easily makes people sympathize with him. He also has a gift for instantly figuring out a person's weaknesses and using them for his benefit."

Vostretsov could not be reached for comment.

He has a long criminal record stretching back to the late 1970s. In 1979, he was imprisoned for a year for failing to pay alimony and for passport violations. In 1981, a court in the Volga River city of Tolyatti sentenced him to three years for illegal trading of goods. And in 1985, a Moscow court put him behind bars for five years for attempted large-scale fraud.

Acquaintances describe Vostretsov as charismatic and cunning, but say that he also has an unstable, menacing side that surfaces when people don't respond to his charm.

Seen in recent television footage, he is strikingly good-looking -- tall with graying dark hair -- and oozes self-confidence.

The current fraud charges against Vostretsov relate to a deal he made with C-Trade in 1992. At the time, Vostretsov was based in Moscow under the surname of his wife, actress Yelena Arzhanik, and claimed to own a Moscow-registered company called Finintorg, Kazikhanov said.

According to Kazikhanov, what happened was as follows:

Vostretsov met with C-Trade director Anatoly Strugov in Krasnodar in 1992 and offered to organize a shipment of canned meat from the United States. During negotiations, Vostretsov demanded an advance payment of $2.7 million. C-Trade agreed and borrowed money from the local branch of Vneshtorgbank to finance the deal.

Vostretsov then took the money and left for Moscow.

Shortly thereafter, Strugov began to worry something was amiss and caught a flight to Moscow.

Vostretsov met him at the airport in a sleek Mercedes. He flashed an ID and said that he was an adviser to Arkady Volsky, then-chairman of the Congress of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Russia (now the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or RSPP).

He apparently even took Strugov to the building where the congress had its offices to discuss the matter.

RSPP officials could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Kazikhanov said the RSPP has denied having anything to do with Vostretsov.

During their discussion, Vostretsov assured Strugov that Finintorg had already paid for the canned meat shipment and showed an official-looking document confirming the load was already on board a ship.

The ship later docked in St. Petersburg as promised, but it carried none of the promised goods.

Later in 1992, Vostretsov left Russia after transferring a large sum of money to the Netherlands, Kazikhanov said.

His subsequent movements are unclear, but investigators believe that he went to the United States on an immigration visa and lived there for more than five years.

An FBI official, who declined to be identified, said that Vostretsov was arrested multiple times in the United States and eventually deported. It was not immediately clear which crimes, if any, he was charged with.

While Vostretsov was in the United States, Strugov was in Russia putting together a fraud case. He located other people who claimed they had been defrauded of a total of about $50 million, Kazikhanov said.

Based on the allegations, the North Caucasus investigation department mounted a manhunt in 1995. But only in late 2001 did investigators learn of Vostretsov's whereabouts when the FBI, which had been checking his record in Russia after his deportation, tipped them off.

Vostretsov lived in Moscow for about a year prior to his December arrest under the name Henry Oknyansky, Kazikhanov said. He had a Foreign Ministry press accreditation card that helped him move around freely.

Moscow-based American film producer Michael Bass, who became acquainted with Vostretsov -- or Oknyansky, as he knew him -- in Los Angeles, said he and Daly tipped off the FBI. They became suspicious of Vostretsov after he began making claims that he was involved in a movie deal with Daly, Bass said.

Daly could not be reached for comment.

Lyubov Rekiyan, deputy head of the North Caucasus Investigation Department, said this week that the case is slowly moving forward. Local prosecutors have taken over the investigation and are looking for other possible victims.

"There are a lot of procedural things that still have to be performed," Rekiyan said. "We could not do them earlier because Vostretsov was simply not here."

Rekiyan said she was certain that the case would go to court, but could not say when.

Kazikhanov, however, doubts that Vostretsov will be tried.

"He seems to have powerful patrons, and he is very smart," he said.