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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bykov Convicted but Still Walks Free

After 16 months of pretrial detention, 14 weeks of a bitter trial and 150 minutes of suspense while the sentence was read, Krasnoyarsk metals magnate Anatoly Bykov, who was charged with plotting the murder of his former business associate Vilor Struganov, was set free Wednesday.

The Meshchansky district court found Bykov guilty but then handed him a 6 1/2 year suspended sentence, citing the time he had already spent behind bars and his poor health. If during a five-year probation period he clashes with the law, the sentence will become a prison term.

Bykov left Wednesday night for Krasnoyarsk, where he is expected to join the already-crowded race for the governor's seat, vacant after General Alexander Lebed's death in a helicopter crash in April.

Although Bykov announced after Lebed's death that he would not run for the seat, he has considerable support in the Siberian region. In elections for the regional parliament in December, his bloc got 17 percent of the vote. Wednesday's conviction poses no obstacle to his candidacy, but if he runs, the ballot in the September election must inform voters of his conviction.

No one expected such a finale to the widely covered trial: not the journalists swarming around the stuffy court room, nor Bykov's friends nor a small delegation from the Liberal Democratic Party, with which Bykov has close ties.

Amid the roars of the crowd, Bykov's friends, men in well-tailored suits and expensive shoes, rushed to embrace the triumphant Genrikh Padva, a top-notch lawyer who led Bykov's defense team.

"I am pleased by the sentence because the court, freeing Bykov, indirectly acknowledged that he is innocent," Padva told journalists. "Anyway, we will challenge the verdict in a higher court to clear him of all charges."

Alexei Mitrofanov, an LDPR leader who attended the trial Wednesday, said that giving Bykov the unusually long suspended sentence was a smart move by the Kremlin.

"It's got Bykov under strict supervision now," Mitrofanov said. "Any awkward move and he will be nailed down."

State prosecutor Svetlana Yemelyanova said she would study the verdict before deciding whether to appeal. She had requested that Bykov be sentenced to nine years in prison. Both sides have seven days to appeal.

Bykov avoided reporters by slipping out the back door of the court. He was whisked away in a BMW sedan belonging to Igor Lebedev, who heads the LDPR faction in the State Duma.

Earlier in the day, he had entered the steel defendant's cage in the courtroom wearing a snow-white short-sleeved shirt and blue jeans, and flashing his trademark Celentano-style smile. The smile slowly turned to a grimace of utter fatigue as Judge Vladimir Nikitin read out the evidence of Bykov's guilt.

According to the verdict, Bykov, then the head of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, parted ways with his prot?g? Struganov in 1999 after he switched sides and joined up with the Chyorny brothers, Bykov's main rivals in the aluminum trade.

Bykov at that time was in a Hungarian prison, detained at the request of Russian prosecutors who suspected him of involvement in money laundering, gunrunning and contract murders. Struganov visited Bykov in prison in December 1999 and asked him to sell his 28 percent stake in Krasnoyarsk Aluminum, according to the verdict. Bykov was infuriated by the offer.

Bykov was extradited to Krasnoyarsk and freed in August 2000 on the condition he not leave the city.

While still in jail, Bykov had ordered his bodyguard Alexander Vasilenko to kill Struganov, and had ordered an unidentified person to supply Vasilenko with a pistol, the judge said in reading the verdict.

The Federal Security Service, to which Vasilenko turned, helped stage a mock murder of Struganov in Moscow on Sept. 29, 2000, in a sting operation to catch Bykov. Four days later, Vasilenko, wearing a hidden microphone, went to Bykov's apartment in Krasnoyarsk and told him the order had been fulfilled. He gave Struganov's gold watch and business documents from his brief case to Bykov as proof of the murder. FSB investigators had smeared the papers with invisible ink.

Bykov was arrested Oct. 4. Tests showed he had gone through Struganov's papers, and he was taped ordering Vasilenko to hide abroad and to keep silent if picked up by the police, the verdict said.

Throughout the heated trial, Bykov and his five defense lawyers had denied his involvement in attempted murder, saying he had been framed.

On the first day of the trial, on Feb. 4, Bykov's defense submitted to the court as evidence written and videotaped recordings of Vasilenko retracting his testimony to FSB investigators and declaring that Struganov had forced him to testify against Bykov at gunpoint.

Vasilenko's statement was obtained by two members of the LDPR who met Vasilenko in Cyprus in December.

Struganov then told the court that he had met Vasilenko later in Moscow, and Vasilenko had told him that Bykov had paid him $6 million for this statement.

Vasilenko did not appear at the trial. Judge Nikitin said earlier that the FSB was looking for him abroad.

Struganov, known by his nickname Pasha Tsvetomuzyka, or Pasha Strobelight, due to a nervous face tic, was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. On June 5 he was flown by the police to Krasnoyarsk, where he faces charges of plotting a bomb attack in December.

In his final statement on June 3, Bykov repeated that he was innocent and said the case against him was ordered by his political and business rivals.

After having supported Lebed's bid for the governor's seat in 1998, Bykov parted ways with him and the two became foes.

Not long before his death in April, Lebed sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin asking him to take Bykov's case under his personal control and to make sure he did not escape justice.

While Bykov sat in jail, he watched his vast fortune shrink. In December, the new controlling shareholder at KrAZ, metals giant Russian Aluminum, completed an additional share emission at the plant, which diluted the stake controlled by Bykov from 28 percent to an estimated 11 percent.