Russian billionaire Telman Ismailov’s lawyer Milos Vuksanovic on Thursday called on Montenegrin authorities to respond to his client’s request for political asylum before making any decision to extradite him to Russia.
The Russian billionaire of Azerbaijani origin was arrested in Podgorica, Montenegro on October 1 under an international arrest warrant issued by Russia for allegedly ordering contract killings.
Vuksanovic told BIRN that on September 8 Ismalov applied for political asylum at the Montenegrin interior ministry and should not be extradited until a decision is made.
“As Ismailov is in the process of obtaining asylum, the Montenegrin authorities must first decide on this request. The mandate against Ismailov is an example of political and economic persecution by the Russian Federation. We have prepared documents to prove these pressures and they will be submitted in the asylum process, ”Vuksanovic told BIRN.
The 2017 Russian arrest warrant accuses Ismailov of being involved in a double homicide. He faces life imprisonment if found guilty. The case is said to be linked to the 2016 murder of businessman Vladimir Savkin and the founder of the Lublino-Motors automotive service center, Yury Brylev.
The tycoon’s brother, Rafik Ismailov, and another suspect, Mekhman Kerimov, are also accused of being involved in the double homicide. Kerimov has already pleaded guilty.
Montenegro’s High Court on Wednesday upheld the decision to keep Ismailov in detention, citing danger of his escape. By law, Ismailov could remain in extraditional detention for up to eight months.
“The danger of escape arises from the fact that Ismailov has received an international arrest warrant for the criminal offense of murder, for which the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation provides for a sentence of life imprisonment, and this is a person who has a large number of international business contacts. He could have used it to help hide and who has no justified interest in staying in Montenegro, ”says the court decision.
According to Montenegrin law, Russia must submit its indictment to the High Court before a final decision on Ismailov’s extradition is made. Ismailov can also appeal to the Court of Appeal, and after that, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Minorities must confirm the extradition. The Interior Ministry did not respond to BIRN’s request for information on when it will rule on Ismailov’s asylum application.
Ismailov, once one of Russia’s best-connected businessmen, built the huge open-air Cherkizovsky market in Moscow, only to close it in 2009 for “health and safety violations” and for carrying out activities illegal.
A Russian investigative committee accused the market of operating as a “state within a state”, with its own laws and security. Ismailov eventually fled Russia and his properties were confiscated to pay off his debts.
The media reported that the market was ordered shut down weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin berated Ismailov for hosting a lavish opening night at his huge five-star Mardan Place hotel in Turkey, at a time when many Russians were suffering from the financial crisis of 1998. Putin suggested that his billions of dollars made in Russia should be invested in the country, and not in glitzy projects abroad.
Montenegrin media reported that Ismailov had ties to former Montenegrin government officials, while his son, Alekper, owned a casino in the coastal town of Budva.
Another ex-Russian official risks extradition
On October 1, the Podgorica High Court ordered the extrajudicial detention of another prominent Russian, the former head of the Russian Federal Service for Alcohol Market Regulation, Igor Chuyan.
Police arrested him in the coastal town of Tivat after several weeks of searches. He is wanted in Russia for “giving and receiving bribes in a for-profit organization”.
In April 2018, the Russian prosecution opened criminal proceedings against Chuyan but he had already left the country.
Chuyan is accused of organizing a fraudulent scheme in which Russian bank OFK-Bank issued nearly 14.2 billion rubles – 168 million euros – in unsecured loans to companies controlled by one of the largest distributors of alcoholic products at the time, Status -Groupe LLC.
A Russian commission of inquiry claimed that loans were made to shadow companies actually controlled by staff of OFK-Bank and Status-group LCC, while Chuyan was a beneficiary of both companies.
In September 2019, the committee seized real estate in Chuyan worth nearly 260 million rubles (around 3 million euros), including a country house in the Moscow region and an apartment in the capital.
On July 30, Montenegro extradited the fugitive president of Pushkin University in the Leningrad region, Vyacheslav Skvortsov, who was indicted in Russia for the embezzlement of about 2.5 million rubles, or about $ 35,000.
It was alleged that when Skvortsov held his post in higher education in the Leningrad region, he transferred his money to a personal bank account under the guise of paying civil law contracts (contracts for the provision of services for remuneration) , which were not actually concluded and not executed.