The Slovakian Government is under pressure to explain why it gave political asylum to a convicted fraudster who has no obvious political connections.
Valentin Vinogradov was found guilty of fraud by a Moscow court in December 2020 but the businessman has remained a fugitive from justice and is hiding in Slovakia.
The Slovakian Minister of Justice, Gabor Gal, blocked a formal extradition request from Russia and granted Vinogradov political asylum. He claimed that Vinogradov could not be guaranteed a fair trial in Moscow.
However, it is unusual for businessmen who have no connections to the Kremlin to be granted asylum in Europe when their crimes are purely commercial.
The Vinogradov case has been taken up by veteran investigative journalist Andrey Karalov, who has questioned why the Slovakian Government is protecting the fraudster.
In a YouTube editorial, Karalov said: “The Slovakian Supreme Court supported the ruling for Vinogradov to be extradited to Russia. However, with thanks to the Minister of Justice Gabor Gal this decision was annulled. Vinogradov’s extradition to Russia did not take place, which is unprecedented.”
According to the 86-page verdict from the Moscow court, Vinogradov had conspired to defraud his employer, the Midland Group, during the acquisition of a shopping mall. Vinogradov inflated the acquisition price and arranged for the deal to be done via an offshore company that he secretly controlled. As a result, he was able to steal about $15 million from his employer.
After an arrest warrant was issued in 2017, Vinogradov fled Russia. He was placed on the international wanted list and was eventually arrested by Slovakian police in 2018.
Slovakia’s Supreme Court ruled that the businessman should return to Moscow to face justice but this was overturned by Gal, who was later replaced as Minister of Justice.
According to the NTV news network, Vinogradov appealed the fraud conviction but this was rejected by the courts last month. Vinogradov’s assets in Russia, worth about 271 million roubles, will now be seized as compensation for his victims.
Meanwhile, Vinogradov has been building his life in Slovakia and is a partner in a family-controlled business based in Bratislava. The fraudster’s wife and two daughters sit on the board of Itterra, which makes paper products including plates and cups.
Vinogradov has also started to integrate socially in Slovakia. He has become a member of the National Equestrian Federation in Slovakia and has competed in show jumping competitions in Samorin. Vinogradov’s daughter Alexandra Vinogradova, has also competed in several show jumping competitions in the country.
In his editorial, Karalov questioned the ease with which Vinogradov had been able to avoid the Russian authorities and then continue his life in Slovakia without punishment.
He said: “A question arises for the Slovakian authorities: who is Valentin Vinogradov to you? Why did he receive political asylum in Slovakia? A thief, by the court ruling, a criminal, a fraudster who stole RUB 250 million and with another case ongoing for RUB 100 million. Why Slovakia? Someone in Slovakia, apparently for free, is giving out political refugee status to Vinogradov.”
Image Source: The Slovak Spectator