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Alex Konanykhin (b. Alexandre Pavlovich Konanykhine, Ostashkovmarker, Russiamarker, September 25, 1966) is an entrepreneur and former banker, CEO of The Syndicated News, and past member of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle. In Russia by the early 1990’s he amassed a $300 million banking and real estate empire, including the Russian Real Estate Exchange, the first of its kind in Russia, and the Russian Exchange Bank, at the time the largest commercial bank in the nation. Forced to flee Russia in 1992 after his financial empire was taken over by former KGBmarker officers working in tandem with the Russian mafia, Konanykhin settled down in the United States where he and his wife, Elena Gratcheva, went on to found the Internet firms, KMGI, an advertising agency, and Publicity Guaranteed, a public relations firm. In 2004 Konanykhin was named “New York Businessman of the Year” by the Republican National Committee.

In 1999 Konanykhin and Gratcheva were granted political asylum in the United States, the first citizens of post-Soviet Russia to be given this status. Konanykhin’s asylum was later reversed in 2004, subsequently to be reinstated in 2007. Konanykhin is also the author of the acclaimed memoir Defiance: Or How to Succeed in Business Despite Being Hounded by the FBI, the KGB, the INS, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, Interpol, and Mafia Hit Men, which outlines his business successes and legal travails with the Russian and American governments.

Russian Years

Konanykhin studied at the Department of Space at Moscow’s prestigious MIPT (the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technologymarker) with the intention of becoming a rocket scientist. In 1986 he was expelled from MIPT for running a successful small business during his summer vacation. After his expulsion, Konanykhin took advantage of the loosening business climate in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic reforms (perestroika), and within a few years was head of a $30 Million construction enterprise.

In 1989 Konanykhin financed anti-Communist reformer Boris Yeltsin’s bid for a position on the Russian Supreme Soviet. A year and half after winning this underdog contest, Yeltsin was able to consolidate his support base and leverage himself into the chair of the first President of Russia. Konanykhin was rewarded by Yeltsin for his support with the former state residence of Mikhail Gorbachev and a private security detail.

In 1991 Konanykhin founded the Russian Exchange Bank, which became the first institution to receive a currency-trading license from President Yeltsin’s government. In the Summer of 1992 Konanykhin accompanied Yeltsin’s first delegation to Washington, D.C. where they met with President George H. W. Bush and, afterwards, in Canada with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

In the early 1990’s many Russian businessmen were killed or forced to team up with organized crime as the combined forces of former KGB officers and the Russian mafia began to take back control over the country that had been wrested away by Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Then in 1992, while on a business trip to Hungary, Konanykhin was kidnapped by rogue former KGB officers working in tandem with the "Solnetsevo" crime group under the control of Semyon Mogilevich, who proceeded to take over Konanykhin’s financial empire.

American Years

After his kidnapping in Hungary, Konanykhin escaped to New York where he delivered protest letters to senior Moscow officials and members of the press warning of the looming “mafiocracy.” "I am addressing this letter,” he wrote on September 6, 1992 to government officials and Russian newspapers, “to warn you of a serious political danger -- the seizure of large commercial organizations by mafia-opposition circles that will stop at nothing to achieve their ends." When there were no responses to his letters, Konanykhin contacted President Yeltsin directly. This prompted an investigation by the Moscow-based military prosecutor’s office, and Konanykhin soon also found himself under investigation. The prosecutor, Alexandre Volvodez, now charged that Konanykhin had illegally wired $8.1 million from his Russian Exchange Bank to overseas accounts, and demanded his extradition back to Russia.

As hearings in American federal court would later prove, during this time the FBImarker had opened a division in Moscow, and because American prosecutors and FBI officials were anxious to develop a relationship with Russian law enforcement officials, they had agreed to assist Volvodez in his request for Konanykhin’s deportation. But because Russia and the United States do not have an extradition treaty, Justice Department officials agreed to try to deport him for allegedly violating immigration laws under a minor visa violation. The allegation was later proven false and dismissed during Konanykhin’s first granting of asylum in 1999.

On June 27, 1996 INS agents along with Russian federal prosecutors arrested Konanykhin and Gratcheva at their Watergate apartment in Washington, D.C. The couple was flown to Arlington, Virginia and charged in federal immigration court with violating the conditions their temporary U.S. visas. Between July 19 and August 2 of 1996 hearings were held in the courtroom of Judge John M. Bryant to determine if, as Konanykhin claimed, his deportation was being masterminded by Russian army prosecutor Alexandre Volvodez for political reasons, and that Konanykhin’s life was consequently in danger. The trial touched upon issues as to whether the secret police had taken over the Russian banking industry, and also if the United States government had been fooled into going after Konanykhin.

In court Konanykhin testified he was being targeted by Volvodez and the Russians because of his anti-corruption campaign, and his lawyers argued that he had transferred money to private accounts only to prevent it from being stolen. Appearing as witnesses at the trial were FBI agents who testified that the Russian mafia had previously taken out a contract on Konanykhin’s life. Also appearing were former INS prosecutor, Antoinette Rizzi, who had previously been in charge of the government’s case against Konanykhin, and former KGB agent, Yuri Shvets. Both Rizzi and Shvets testified that they had serious doubts about the charges that had been filed against Konanykhin by Volvodez and the American government.

On August 26, 1996 in Federal Court in Arlington, Virginia, a settlement agreement between Konanykhin and the district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was endorsed by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, was reached. Judge Ellis, who had stated he found the testimonies of Yuri Shvets and Antoinette Rizzi in Konanykhin’s immigration case “credible and somewhat disturbing,” ordered the INS to pay $100,000 of Konanykhin’s legal fees to pro bono counsel at Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn. The settlement also ordered Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer to confirm within 30 days that there would be an internal probe by the Department of Justicemarker into the conduct of INS lawyers at the hearing.

In a lawsuit filed in February, 1997 with the Arlington County Circuit Court, Konanykhin alleged defamation against the daily Russian newspaper Izvestia which had reported him as being involved in various criminal acts. The suit claimed that the information was erroneous and published with "reckless disregard for its truth or actual malice.” An Arlington County Circuit Court jury subsequently awarded Konanykhin $33.5 million in damages. Soon thereafter the same court awarded Konanykhin an additional $3 million in a libel case against the Russian financial journal Kommersant.

On February 23, 1999 in Federal Immigration court Judge Bryant granted political asylum to Konanykhin and Gratcheva, saying the former banker faced persecution and possible death if returned to Russia to face embezzlement charges. In his decision Judge Bryant wrote that testimony from several experts had convinced him that Konanykhin was being targeted for prosecution for political reasons.

Temporarily freed from his trials with the Russian and American governments, Konanykhin and Gratcheva went on to develop a $100 million Internet startup in New York called KMGI, among other businesses. But then on November 20, 2003 the Board of Immigration Appeals revoked Konanykhin’s political asylum and ordered him returned back to Russia. The ruling came less than a month after the arrest by the Putin administration (October 25, 2003) of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Konanykhin’s former banking rival in Russia and business partner during his exile. Konanykhin had served as vice president for the international development of Khodorkovsky's bank, Menatep. Khodorkovsky, former CEO of the Yukos oil conglomeration was, at the time of his arrest, the 16th wealthiest person in the world and the first wealthiest in Russia. Experts called the arrest political revenge for Khodorkovsky's financing of political parties opposed to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

Threatened with imminent deportation, Konanykhin and Gratcheva fled to the Canadian border. There, on December 18, 2003, they were ambushed by a dozen Department of Homeland Securitymarker agents at the Peace Bridgemarker. Konanykhin and Gratcheva were saved from deportation at the last minute by a series of dramatic emergency hearings in Federal Court. Then on January 26, 2004 Judge T. S. Ellis III delivered his ruling, which found the arrest unlawful, and allowed the couple to stay in the United States temporarily, until appeals on their immigration case were exhausted. For the second time the Department of Justice was ordered to pay compensation to Konanykhin for unlawful arrest. Then on September 18, 2007 in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, Konanykhin was granted asylum for the second time.

In recent years Konanykhin has been an outspoken critic in the media of Vladimir Putin’s administration concerning the radiological poisoning of Alexandre Litvinenko, the former Russian State Security officer who went on to become a political dissident and writer before his assassination in 2006.

In 2005 Konanykhin founded The Syndicated News, Inc., an Internet-based news syndicate.


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