A Russian businessman currently hiding in Slovakia has been convicted of fraud and sentenced to four years in prison.
Valentin Vinogradov fled his native Russia in 2017 after criminal charges were brought against him. After several years on the run in Europe, Vinogradov ending up in Slovakia where he is currently seeking political asylum and avoiding extradition.
The legal process in Russia continued in Vinogradov’s absence and the Presnensky District Court found him guilty of fraud on 23 December 2020. The court also ordered that Vinogradov’s assets in Russia, which are estimated to be worth 271 million roubles, should be seized to repay his victims.
The frozen assets are reported to include several Moscow properties, land and a fleet of luxury cars including an Aston Martin and a Porsche Panamera.
The Vinogradov case has put a spotlight on the Slovakian justice system as senior government ministers have so far refused to allow the fraudster to be extradited to Moscow. There have also been allegations of corruption in relation to the case.
The Russian government issued an international arrest warrant for Vinogradov in 2017 after he fled to Europe, living as a fugitive in Cyprus and Germany. Vinogradov then moved to Slovakia and was arrested by the National Criminal Agency while watching a horse racing event at Šamorín in July 2018.
The Slovakian Supreme Court ruled that Vinogradov should be extradited to face justice but this decision was surprisingly overturned by Justice Minister Gábor Gál.
A spokesman for Gál said that his decision had been made because of concerns that Russia “did not adhere to, or would not adhere to, the principles of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”.
While concern over Russia’s treatment of political enemies might be a reason to block extradition, this is not thought to be the case for Vinogradov, who is accused of defrauding his employer – a private commercial property developer.
Slovakian media has reported that while Vinogradov was in prison awaiting a decision on his extradition, he sent notes to his associates with instructions on how to bribe local politicians and Russian law enforcement officials.
Gábor Gál was replaced as Justice Minister by Maria Kolikova in March last year and she has stated that she aims to stamp out corruption in the justice system.
She said at the time of her appointment: “With the whole society traumatised by scandals covered by the media, the public expects measures aimed at increasing trust in courts and in courts’ fair and independent decisions.”
According to the criminal complaint brought by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs against Vinogradov, his crimes started while he was general manager of a property development company in 2007.
Vinogradov identified a shopping mall in Moscow as a potential acquisition for the group and provided “falsified information” about its value to his employers. Vinogradov’s faked documents claiming that the mall was worth $89 million and was being sold by a company called Rosinternet Consulting in the British Virgin Islands.
What his employers did not know was that Rosinternet was secretly owned by Vinogradov, who had a side-deal with the mall’s actual owners to buy it for 1.76 billion roubles ($76 million).
Through this and other deceptions, Vinogradov was found to have stolen more than $15 million from his employer – the Midland Group. The Russian authorities are expected to seek his extradition again following the fraud conviction.
Vinogradov faces further legal trouble as another criminal case has been brought against him. This time, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has alleged that Vinogradov orchestrated fraud in relation to a property deal in 2013.