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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soros Institute: Politics Behind Raid?

George Soros' Open Society Institute said Tuesday that its Russian operations -- including an $88 million program to fight AIDS -- are paralyzed after masked men seized its building, and expressed concern that the attack might be politically motivated.

More than 50 masked men stormed the institute's building in downtown Moscow on Friday and carried away documents and computers. They remained camped out in the building Tuesday. Building owner Kantemir Karamzin said last weekend that he had ordered them in over a long-running rent dispute.

But Open Society Institute head Yekaterina Geniyeva said Tuesday that she feared the raid might be linked to Soros' recent criticism of the arrest of former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Soros told Bloomberg Television on Friday that the arrest was an "unmistakable signal" from the Kremin that oligarchs "must not step out of line."

"I really hope that there is no connection between the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and what happened with our building and the activities of the Soros Foundation," Geniyeva told reporters. "But I cannot rule this out completely. There are too many coincidences: the interview with Mr. Soros, the arrest of Khodorkovsky, the seizure of the Soros building, and the removal of the documents."

Open Society has been in talks with Yukos-sponsored charity Open Russia to transfer some of the financial burden of the Soros program, Geniyeva said. Open Society has distributed more than $1 billion in grants to promote democracy and civil society in Russia over the past 15 years, and was working on programs worth over $120 million when the raid took place, she said.

Open Society Institute officials accused Karamzin of resorting to blackmail with the raid. "Karamzin said that if we don't pay the rent he claims we owe, he will divide the sum that he demands ... by the number of boxes he has taken from us and sell them back one at a time," the head of the institute's legal department, Pavel Kuzmin, said. "He told me he wants to squeeze some more cash out of Granddaddy Soros."

The institute pays $10,500 per month to rent the building under a 1999 contract and says it has spent $2.5 million renovating the property. Karamzin said he is owed $4 million in back rent and overdue utility bills and that he wants to raise the monthly rent to at least $100,000.

Georgy Azarov, a lawyer with the Salans law firm who is not involved with the dispute, called Karamzin's tactics "outrageous."

"There is a whole legal procedure over the use of force in resolving a dispute, and even then the only people allowed to use force are the government," he said.

Police cooperation, however, appears unlikely. Geniyeva said she had called the police repeatedly during the raid. Kuzmin, who witnessed the raid, said only one police officer came in response to the calls and he left after Karamzin showed him ownership papers.

Karamzin could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Police refused to discuss the raid Tuesday, referring questions to city prosecutors. Prosecutors could not be reached for comment.