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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British Businessman Facing Charges

For MTMichael Wheller
A British businessman whose company installs raised floors has been charged with violating Russian patent laws and could face up to five years in prison if found guilty. He has been ordered to remain in Russia pending a resolution of the case.

The case against the businessman, Michael Wheller, was based on complaints from Russian competitors, who hold the patent in Russia and claimed damages of more than $400,000.

Wheller's lawyer said the case has no merit because such floors, which allow for cables to be laid underneath, have been used in offices for more than 30 years.

"It would be as if someone decided to get a patent on bicycles and demand royalties from producers and distributors," lawyer Maxim Smal said Tuesday at a news conference.

Wheller, general director of the building installation company OfficeScape Projects Ltd., registered in Britain since August 1995, was charged by the Presnensky branch of the City Prosecutor's Office on Feb. 7 with conspiring with business partners in the sale and installation of a certain type of raised floors without the permission of the Russian patent holder.

According to a copy of the prosecutor's report, the patent holders, Sergei Kardashev and Vsevolod Glukhovtsev, filed a complaint on Oct. 11. A day later, a criminal case was opened against Valery Zverev, general director of Kontal, a Moscow-based company operating under the OfficeScape trademark.

Zverev was accused of continuing to install raised floors in several Moscow offices, bringing "significant financial damage to the patentees," despite several warnings from Kardashev and Glukhovtsev, the report said.

Kardashev, deputy general director of a company called Department of New Technology, defended pressing criminal charges.

"They ignored our requests to stop selling [the raised floors], and we had no other choice but to take it to the authorities," he said by telephone.

Wheller, who said he has been coming to Russia for the past seven to eight years, said he arrived in Moscow on Jan. 23 and was preparing to fly back to Britain on the day he was charged.

"Unfortunately, they told me I'd been restricted from leaving the country," Wheller said at the news conference. He said he does not plan to flee.

"I want to continue coming to Russia," he said. "I like the people here. And I think it's important to show that you can't be scared away."

A British Embassy spokesman said Tuesday that embassy officials were aware of Wheller's case but could give no comment.

In a peculiar incident following Tuesday's news conference at the Marriott Tverskaya hotel, Wheller and his contingent said an unidentified man came up behind him and hit him on the top of the head with a cake while Wheller was paying his hotel bill. The man escaped before hotel security could catch him, Wheller said.

Smal said he was convinced DNT was behind the incident, and dismissed the idea that it might have been staged by OfficeScape to attract attention to Wheller's case.

Kardashev denied any involvement.