18 Feb 2020 21:38

Interpol refuses to declare journalist charged with defaming Usmanov wanted - lawyer

MOSCOW. Feb 18 (Interfax) - Interpol has denied Russia's request to declare Rosbalt journalist Alexander Shvarev, who has been charged with defaming businessman Alisher Usmanov and extorting more than 3 billion rubles from him, internationally wanted.

"Interpol refused to declare Shvarev wanted because it deemed his case politically motivated. Additionally, the Interpol commission found that the case lacks any criminal element and is related only to private matters," the journalist's lawyer Vladimir Zherebyonkov told Interfax.

Interpol decided his client's prosecution was unlawful and unfounded, Zherebyonkov said.

Initially, police charged Shvarev with slander combined with accusing someone of committing a felony. Later, a criminal inquiry was launched into extortion with a view to gaining a massive quantity of assets. The former charge entails a fine of up to 5 million rubles or 480 hours of community service; the latter could land Shvarev in prison for seven to 15 years.

The two cases have been merged into one.

According to the indictment, between July and October 2018, Shvarev and Alisher Abdullayev, who is on the international wanted list, posted knowingly false allegations on several websites about Usmanov being involved in serious crimes. Those claims, police established, were false and made deliberately in order to besmirch the honor and dignity of the businessman, as well as damage his reputation, thus causing him mental anguish.

Additionally, according to the inquiry, since last October, the pair, along with other as of yet unidentified individuals, has posted on various websites discrediting information about Fincraft Resources board chairman Kenes Rakishev, accusing him of fraud, links to organized crime, and so on. When asked by the businessman's press service to delete the false information, Shvarev and Abdullayev demanded to be given either $50,000 or 3.3 million rubles, failing which they would continue with such allegations, investigators said.

Shvarev's lawyer Zherebyonkov said the charges were trumped-up and that prosecution of the journalist was special-ordered. "The charge is absolutely unspecific, trumped-up, and unsubstantiated," he told Interfax earlier.

Shvarev "categorically denies" guilt and does not believe the investigation will be objective, which is why he intends to remain abroad. "At the moment, I'm outside of Russia. Getting locked up on fabricated charges is not part of my plans at all," he told Interfax.

The journalist himself, who is currently in Latvia, has been arrested in absentia. It emerged this January that Latvian authorities granted political asylum to him and his family.