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Out of spotlight, Russian suspects in Baring Vostok case stay jailed

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Moscow (AFP)

Since his arrest in February Ivan Zyuzin, the investment director for Baring Vostok, has been in jail awaiting trial, barred from even seeing his wife and four children.

Zyuzin and his two Russian co-defendants, Maxim Vladimirov and Vagan Abgaryan, have been caught up in the case of Baring Vostok, one of Russia's oldest private equity groups, that has sent shockwaves through the country's business community.

But while the ordeal of the fund's American founder Michael Calvey and his French colleague Philippe Delpal has drawn international attention including that of French President Emmanuel Macron, the fate of Baring Vostok's Russian executives has mostly remained out of the spotlight.

The men are alleged to have defrauded a Russian bank of 2.5 billion rubles ($38.7 million).

They deny the charges, saying the case is part of a struggle for control of Bank Vostochny involving a little-known Russian businessman with links to the Kremlin and law enforcement agents.

- 'Lives upside down' -

While Calvey and Delpal were eventually moved from pre-trial detention to house arrest, the Russians remain in jail.

Their assets are frozen and contact with their families is restricted to letters censored by prison authorities.

Vladimirov runs a debt collection firm that Calvey is accused of using in the alleged fraud scheme.

His wife Yana said the separation has "turned our lives upside down".

Zyuzin, who is 35 and whose oldest child is 10, has now been allowed to speak to his family by phone five times a month, with each call restricted to 15 minutes.

The families of the Russian men say they can't understand why the co-defendents are being treated differently.

"There is absolutely no legal logic in keeping some defendants at home and some in jail in exactly the same situation," Zyuzin's wife, Nina Budazhapova, said.

Last month, a Russian court extended the three men's pre-trial detention until mid-January, taking it to nearly a year.

They plan to appeal the ruling.

- Like 'hostages' -

Baring Vostok has said the authorities' treatment of the Russians was outrageous and feared they could remain behind bars for years.

"It is deeply surprising to see the courts adopt different forms of pre-trial detention against defendants in the same case, leaving the three Russian citizens in jail as though they were hostages," it said in a statement.

"If their form of pre-trial detention remains unchanged, Ivan, Vagan and Maxim could remain in prison during the entire period of the trial, which could drag on for years."

Calvey, who is highly respected in Russian investment circles, has worked in Russia for more than 20 years and has steered clear of politics.

Baring Vostok has invested in some of the country's biggest companies including search giant Yandex and Ozon, a top online retailer.

A host of prominent figures including Russia's business ombudsman Boris Titov have criticised the charges against the investment fund.

Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said the Baring Vostok case had caused capital flight from Russia to double.

- 'Convenient testimony' -

President Vladimir Putin has criticised security services for their "unreasonable and sometimes simply illegal interference in the work of businesses".

He has however sought to distance himself from the case, insisting it was a matter for the courts to decide.

Titov, who visited the Russians in jail, said keeping the business executives in pre-trial detention was against the law.

"We believe that in this case none of the defendants should be in jail," he said.

Alexei Lezhnikov, a lawyer representing Zyuzin, suggested that investigators were keeping the Russians behind bars to pressure them into providing "convenient testimony".

"We also believe that the foreign nationals have been released so that the public would gradually lose interest in the trial," he said.

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