Moscow-based private-equity firm Baring Vostok Capital Partners announced Monday that senior partner Elena Ivashentseva and co-founder Alexei Kalinin are in charge of the company after its founder and senior partner Michael Calvey, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of embezzlement.
Moscow Basmanny court judge Artur Karpov ordered Calvey, the founder of the firm and one of the country’s longest-standing and most prominent American investors, held in custody until at least April 13, arguing that the seriousness of criminal charges makes him a flight risk.
Calvey’s lawyer said the investor maintains his innocence and will appeal. Four other defendants in the case have been ordered to remain in pretrial custody for two months.
A spokeswoman for the Moscow district court on Friday announced that Calvey had been detained along with other members of the firm on Thursday, on suspicion of stealing $37.5 million (2.5 billion rubles), a charge that carries of a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Calvey, 51, is a senior partner who founded Baring Vostok in 1994. According to the firm’s website, the private equity group holds more than $3.5 billion in committed capital and is a controlling shareholder in Russia’s Vostochny Bank, which focuses on Siberian and Far Eastern markets
A statement on the Baring Vostok website said the company “believes that the detention of its employees and the charges that have been brought are a result of a conflict with shareholders of Vostochniy [sic] Bank. We have full confidence in the legality of our employees’ actions and will vigorously defend their rights. Baring Vostok’s activities in the Russian Federation are fully compliant with all applicable laws.”
Before launching Baring Vostok, Calvey worked for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Salomon Brothers. Since arriving in Moscow in the mid-1990s, he’s become a prominent and highly visible member of the Moscow investment community. He is a board member of the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
The announcement of Calvey’s detention sent shockwaves through the international investment community, prompting numerous pleas for his immediate release.
Herman Gref, head of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest state bank, issued a statement calling Calvey a “decent, honest man,” while Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s $10 billion sovereign wealth fund and a close contact of Russian President Vladimir Putin, described Calvey as “committed to the highest ethical standards accepted in the investment community.”
Kremlin officials on Friday said Putin wasn’t aware of the charges being brought against Calvey.
A State Department spokesperson said Friday, “We are aware that a U.S. citizen was arrested on February 14, 2019, in Russia. We have no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens abroad. Due to privacy considerations, we do not have any additional information at this time.”
Calvey is the third Westerner to face prosecution in Russia since December 31, when American citizen Paul Whelan, a former Marine, was jailed on accusations of spying. Last week a Russian court sentenced Dennis Christensen, a Danish adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, to six years in prison for “organizing the activity of an extremist organization.”
Although Russia has jailed foreign investors who were vocal opponents of the Kremlin, Calvey has no such record of public political opinions.
Russia is “a do-it-yourself market,” Calvey told The Washington Post in 2011. “You can’t rely on outside service providers.”
In that same interview, Calvey said his group operates with 20 investors, four full-time lawyers and three government relations managers, along with a host of accountants and administrative support. At that time, all 10 of his partners were Russian nationals.
“International firms aren’t equipped for Russia,” he told the Post. “And they usually have a low-tolerance threshold for uncertainty and no sense of humor for Russian surprises,” which he described as surprise audits, seizure of assets for back taxes, and sudden, sometimes seemingly arbitrary, business license reviews.
Vocal Kremlin critic and Hermitage Capital co-founder Bill Browder was denied entry into Russia in 2005 after his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, began investigating governmental misconduct and corruption in response to suspicious tax evasion charges brought against Hermitage by Russia’s Interior Ministry.
Magnitsky died under suspicious circumstances in Russian custody in 2009.
“The arrest of Mike Calvey in Moscow should be the final straw that Russia is an entirely corrupt and [uninvestable] country,” Browder said in a tweet on Friday. “Of all the people I knew in Moscow, Mike played by their rules, kept his head down and never criticized the government.”
Pete Cobus is VOA’s acting Moscow correspondent. State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed reporting from Washington. Some information is from Reuters.