By PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News
(MOSCOW) — Russia’s supreme court has freed American businessman, Michael Calvey, who has spent more than a year-and-a-half in detention in a case heavily criticized by the United States and Russia’s business community.
Calvey was detained in February 2019 on embezzlement charges relating to a business dispute involving his private equity investment fund, Baring Vostok. His arrest set off a major outcry with international investors and in Russia’s business community, which criticized it as a corrupt attempt by Calvey’s opponents in the dispute to use law enforcement to pressure him.
The ruling to free Calvey came hours after the dispute between Baring Vostok and Vostochny Bank was declared settled in another court. A company belonging to Baring Vostok agreed to pay $32 million to the bank.
The supreme court ruled to free Calvey and four other Baring Vostok executives from house arrest while the trial continues, Russian state news media reported. The case against Calvey is still open and the judge left more minor restraints on Calvey, including prohibiting him from leaving home at night or changing his address.
“I view the ruling to change the pre-trial restrictions on the participants of our case positively. We await the start of the trial, so as to prove our innocence. And my plans for the near future—to return to work,” Calvey was quoted as saying after the hearing, according to Interfax.
Calvey is known as one of Russia’s most successful private foreign investors and an ambassador for doing business in the country. Around 25 years, Baring Vostok has brought $3.7 billion of private equity capital into Russia and he provided early investment in Yandex, the tech giant that competes with Google in Russia.
His arrest shocked business circles in Russia and was seen as a threat to foreign investment in the country. It also led to an unusual outcry from powerful figures close to the Kremlin. U.S. investors last year discussed boycotting the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, a prestigious event important to the Kremlin, in protest over Calvey’s detention.
After three months in pre-trial detention, Calvey was released and put under house arrest in April 2019. Calvey has said in court that the case was brought against him by his opponents in the dispute around Vostochny Bank, accusing it of abusing the law.
The United States has repeatedly criticized Calvey’s trial. Two other Americans, both former Marines, are also jailed in Russia: Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges and Trevor Reed, 29, sentenced to nine years on assault charges. In both cases, their families and American officials have accused Russia of taking the men as political hostages as it seeks leverage with the U.S.
The dispute linked to Calvey’s detention began when Baring Vostok filed a $268 million claim against a business partner, Artem Avetisyan, in London for allegedly stripping assets from a bank he owned before it was merged with Vostochny Bank in 2017.
Baring Vostok has also accused Avetisyan and his holding company Finvision of conspiring to illegally obtain control of Vostochny Bank, which they were forced to cede control last year.
Vostochny Bank on Wednesday announced it had struck a deal with Baring Vostok to receive $32 million from First Collector’s Bureau, a debt collection agency owned by Baring Vostok.
After Calvey’s and the other executives’ release from house arrest on Thursday, Baring Vostok said it was pleased by the decision and said the case should be closed.
“The case materials do not contain any evidence of guilt of those accused in the case. We are certain of the innocence of our colleagues and we will continue to seek justice,” the fund said in statement, according to the business newspaper RBC.
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