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American Lawyer Emanuel Zeltser Detained In Belarus
American Lawyer Emanuel Zeltser Detained In Belarus
Emanuel Zeltser, a Russian-born U.S. citizen who sued the Bank of New York during the height of its Russian money-laundering scandal in the 1990s, was detained last week in Minsk, his brother told Forbes.
The reasons for his arrest just after exiting a plane in Belarus are unknown, and news of the March 12 occurence in the capital of Belarus is just now reaching other countries. The US State Department, citing a law that requires missing persons to sign a waiver before information about them can be released, refused to comment or confirm that Zeltser had been detained.
“My brother has never been to Belarus before. He took his first step out of the plane and got detained,” said Mark Zeltser to Belorusskie Novosty. He also said that on 15 March, the Belarusian law-enforcing institutions confirmed the detention to the US Embassy in Minsk, but did not specify when and on what grounds the detainee was kept. Mark Zeltser was not sure then whether the American Consular managed to get through to his brother.
Emanuel Zeltser’s relatives sent a letter to the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Washington with a list of medication he needs to take. “I am very concerned about his health as he is seriously ill,” said Mark. He said that the Belarusian Embassy replied by fax saying that Emanuel Zeltser was given all the necessary medication.
The brother also said that Zeltser went to London to meet with his clients whose assets are also found in Belarus. There he received a Belarusian visa and along with his secretary Vladlena Funk who has the Russian citizenship and a US living permit, flew to Belarusian on 12 March.
Both of them were detained in Minsk as soon as they got out of the plane. The whereabouts of the secretary are also unknown. “He has never been to Belarus. If he violated the Belarusian legislation he has to give account for it. But what are claims and what are the grounds for his detention? Why are we still unable to get in touch with him? Plus, his right for an attorney is to be observed, and he needs medical care,” insisted Mark Zeltser.
The case could worsen already strained ties between the U.S. and Belarus, which earlier this month recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations and pushed the United States do the same.
The detainee’s brother is aware of the Belarusian-American relations. He said that politics should not interfere into people’s lives. Mark is convinced that Emanuel Zeltser has never dealt with Belarus or anything personally related to the Republic’s President. “I would really like to visit him, but I’m afraid I don’t have a good enough reason for a visa,” he said. “Our mother is 91 years old, and she will die if she finds out what happened…”
The KGB Information and Public Affairs Centre, the Belarusian State Committee of the Border Forces, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs said that they do not know anything about the detentions of the American citizen in the Belarusian capital.
However, Russian news agency Interfax cited Belarusian Interior Ministry sources as saying the arrest may have taken place at the request of Russian law enforcement authorities. But the Moscow branch of Interpol said it was not aware of any Russian-issued international arrest warrant for Zeltser. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Belarus confirmed to BelaPAN on Wednesday that a Russian national, Vladlena Funk, was arrested in Minsk last week. «We confirm that she was detained,» Aleksandr Frolov, a counselor at the embassy, told BelaPAN. «It is likely that she was apprehended by state security agencies and is being held at the KGB's special detention center.» He said that the woman had not applied to the embassy for consular or other assistance.
Staff member at the American-Russian Law Institute, New York, USA, chaired by Emanuel Zeltser, Oksana Edler shared with Belorusskie Novosty several ideas as to why her boss was detained. She said that the Belarusian side might accuse him of being affiliated with organised crime. The detained lawyer’s colleagues reckon that his arrest is related to some Russian tycoons, not anything criminal in Belarus. Edler said that this situation might involve those “willing to grab hold of the assets belonging to the deceased businessmen from Russia, who was Zeltser’s client”. She did not mention the name of the client.
There is also a possibility of some Russian groups being involved as they “were not happy with Emanuel Zeltser’s legal operations”, stated Edler. “Perhaps, somebody used their connections with the Belarusian law-enforcing institutions as Emanuel Zeltser’s detention could not happen in countries with a democratic regime,” assumed the detainee’s colleague.
An US legal interpreter, Valery Shchukin, of whom Mr. Zeltser was once a client, told Russia's news agency RIA Novosti that the lawyer might have been arrested over his «close» connections with exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky. He said that the reason also could be the Inkombank case.
Zeltser, outspoken and controversial, is a specialist on money laundering and organized crime. In 1999 he testified before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services regarding the estimated $10 billion money-laundering scheme at the Bank of New York, which is now known as Bank of New York Mellon. He also sued the bank for $2 billion on behalf of depositors who had lost money in an affiliate.
In the late 1990s, Emanuel Zeltser, who is a lawyer, also represented a former Kremlin official, Pavel Borodin, when Borodin was charged by a Swiss court with money laundering.
In 1995, Mr. Zeltser sued Inkombank, once Russia's second-largest bank, in a US federal court, accusing it of misappropriating funds from depositors in collaboration with the Bank of New York. He previously worked for the bank, but claimed that he was dismissed from his post after initiating an investigation into evidence of theft and fraud. Inkombank collapsed in 1998 amid Russia's financial crisis.
The lawyer was a featured expert in such media as Fox News, CNN, Voice of America, Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, CBC (Canada) and others, where he gave comments on international terrorism, money laundering, and organised crime.
21 Марта, 2008
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