Moscow is demanding Britain hand over Yevgeny Chichvarkin, a controversial multi-millionaire, to face charges of kidnapping and extortion. Chichvarkin, 34, disappeared from Russia last December just before a warrant was issued for his arrest. He surfaced on June 7 in London, where he was spotted mingling conspicuously at a performance of the Ballets Russes.
Chichvarkin, dubbed “the million-dollar mullet” by the expatriate magazine Russia!, was one of his country’s most successful and flamboyant entrepreneurs of the last decade. (The title of a 2007 biography translates roughly as “Chichvarkin: The F—ing Genius.”) He founded the cellphone company Euroset in 1997 and sold it in November 2008 for US$1.25 billion. But along with financial acumen came run-ins with Moscow. In 2006, a dispute over documentation led to a government seizure of 167,000 Euroset phones; all but 50,000 were returned to the company. Chichvarkin claimed that bureaucrats dumped the remainder on the market, an allegation that embarrassed the Russian government before it hosted the 2006 G8 summit.
Chichvarkin’s current problems date back to 2003, when Euroset’s shipping agent was alleged to have stolen US$1 million worth of cellphones from the company. The man was reportedly held by Euroset’s security force until his family was able to repay the debt. Moscow is alleging that Chichvarkin was personally involved in the kidnapping.
The tycoon is poised to be the latest pawn in an ongoing diplomatic feud between Britain and Russia. The U.K. has been granting political asylum to foes of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, including KGB whistle-blower Alexander Litvinenko, who was fatally poisoned in 2006. Britain has demanded that Russia extradite the prime suspect in the case, Andrei Lugovoi, an ally of Putin, to no avail. Also residing in London are former oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev. No doubt Chichvarkin’s lawyers have been in touch.