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U.S. Ambassador To Boycott Russian Forum Over Arrest Of Investor Michael Calvey


American investor Michael Calvey sits inside a defendants' cage as he attends a court hearing in Moscow on February 15.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department says its ambassador to Russia will boycott an annual gathering of global political and business leaders in St. Petersburg next month to protest the arrest of American investor Michael Calvey.

Jon Huntsman will not attend the three-day St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, nor will the U.S. Embassy in Moscow send any representatives to the event, the State Department said in a statement on May 24.

The forum promotes investment in Russia and often features the signing of major business deals between Russian companies and foreign firms.

Russian law enforcement arrested the prominent Moscow-based U.S. investor, who founded Baring Vostok Capital Partners, in February, accusing him and four others of defrauding Vostochny bank.

The arrests stunned many Western investors and drew complaints from high-level Russian business leaders and government officials, who questioned the motivations of the courts and prosecutors.

Calvey's detention has come up in talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Calvey's lawyers have said the case is retaliation by a disgruntled business partner over a commercial dispute.

A Moscow court in April ordered Calvey out of pretrial detention and ruled he be placed under house arrest, pending trial.

"Mr. Calvey’s continued house arrest and criminal prosecution undermines efforts to create the stability needed to attract new investment and encourage more robust business interaction," the State Department said in a statement e-mailed to RFE/RL.

Baring Vostok is one of the largest and oldest private equity firms operating in Russia, having invested more than $2.8 billion since the early 1990s. The company was an early, major investor in Russia's dominant search engine, Yandex.

The St. Petersburg forum attracted 17,000 participants last year, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan.

Huntsman attended last year's forum but did not participate on panels, amid criticism it was not proper in light of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Huntsman justified his attendance at the time, saying "dialogue represents the way forward."

Calvey was also among the forum’s "speakers and experts" in 2018, according to its website.

Calvey isn’t the only American behind bars in Russia that Huntsman is seeking to free. Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan has been behind bars since December 28, after being arrested on charges of spying.

A Moscow court on May 24 extended his pretrial detention to August 29. Whelan has called the case politically motivated and revenge for U.S. sanctions against Russia.

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