Russia-based private-equity group Baring Vostok has appealed to President Vladimir Putin to "take personal control" of a criminal investigation into its jailed American founder and five other executives.
Baring Vostok Capital Partners (BVCP) made the call in an open letter to Putin posted on its website on February 25, after Russian prosecutors last week formally charged Michael Calvey, three additional BVCP employees, and two other executives with large-scale financial fraud.
Calvey and the others, who are behind bars in pretrial detention, deny wrongdoing.
The American investment-fund manager, who founded the BVCP in 1994, is one of the most prominent foreign investors in Russia. His arrest in Moscow on February 14, amid persistently and severely strained ties between Moscow and Washington, sent shock waves through Western business circles.
If convicted, Calvey could face up to 10 years in prison.
In its open letter, Baring Vostok said it was appealing to Putin in order to "ensure a comprehensive, independent, and objective investigation" in the case. Kremlin critics say Russian courts lack independence and are often used by the authorities and businesses to neutralize perceived political threats or get the upper hand in disputes over money and property.
The letter suggested that all those arrested in the case be released from a pretrial custody, saying that a reduction in pretrial detention over financial allegations in recent years "has helped eliminate the possibility of putting undue pressure on a business partner as part of a business conflict."
It also said that the charges against Calvey and the other accused were connected to "the execution of normal management functions at a commercial organisation (Vostochny Bank)."
BVCP had said that the case was linked to a commercial conflict with the bank.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin would be informed of Baring Vostok's request.
"I don't know whether the president saw the letter and how it was handed over, but...we will inform the president about the letter published in the media," Peskov said.
Putin has not spoken directly about Calvey or the case in public.
In a February 25 report, the Bloomberg news agency cited unnamed sources as saying that Putin defended the decision to prosecute Calvey at a closed-door meeting last week.
When asked about criticism of the handling of the case and the damage it could do to the Russian investment climate, Putin said that investigators’ stated suspicions that Calvey and his associates had stolen a large amount of money could not be ignored, Bloomberg reported, citing three people familiar with the meeting.
Prosecutors claim that a company owned by Calvey borrowed 2.5 billion rubles ($38 million) from Vostochny Bank, and that shares in another company that Calvey transferred to the bank as reimbursement in February 2017 were worth only about 600,000 rubles -- not the 3 billion rubles he allegedly said they were worth.
On February 21, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow demanded that Russia give U.S. diplomats immediate access to Calvey.
"We have requested this access multiple times. The Russian Federation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet complied with the terms of our Bilateral Consular Convention and has not allowed us to provide consular assistance. We have expressed our strong concern about this delay through diplomatic channels," the diplomatic mission said in a statement.