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Police Say He Helped Steal $5 Billion, But Russia's Opposition Wants to Save Alexander Belov

Alexander Belov's incarceration has become a rallying point for some in the Russian opposition. Images edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Alexander Belov's incarceration has become a rallying point for some in the Russian opposition. Images edited by Kevin Rothrock.

There’s a rumor going around that the Russian authorities are planning to torture—maybe even drive to suicide—one of the country’s most prominent nationalists, Alexander Belov. Torturing Mr. Belov, whose real surname is Potkin, won’t be hard: he’s currently sitting in a Moscow jail cell, awaiting trial for the launder and embezzlement of roughly five billion dollars.

Belov’s role in such a fantastic theft remains something of a mystery, but Russian police felt they had enough evidence to charge him with breaking criminal codes 174 and 159, which could send him to prison for seven years and ten years, respectively.

How could a Russian nationalist—the former leader of the now-banned “Movement Against Illegal Immigration” (DPNI)—possibly help steal five billion dollars? Belov’s accusers say he was working for Mukhtar Ablyazov, the Kazakh oligarch who’s often compared to Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. According to prosecutors, Ablyazov hired Belov in 2011 to study and foment nationalist unrest in Kazakhstan, with the aim of weakening President Nazarbaev’s regime. Over time, Ablyazov, who’s now in French custody and in danger of being extradited to Russia, supposedly placed more trust in Belov, eventually tasking him with managing his entire financial empire.

Belov was first arrested on October 15 and placed under house arrest on October 17. Five days later, however, prosecutors added fraud charges that prompted a judge to relocate Belov’s pretrial detention to a state prison. According to the arresting officers, Belov’s behavior during the search of his apartment was peculiar. Police say he refused to tell them where his passport was, tried to escape through the window (injuring his back in the process), and even ate a supposedly incriminating document, to keep it out of the authorities’ hands.

Concerns about Belov’s physical safety in pretrial detention spiked this week, after his brother, Vladimir Basmanov, wrote on LiveJournal about a supposed plan by the Federal Security Service (FSB) to torture Belov in prison:

Александра планируется поместить в камеру, так называемую, «пресс-хату», где на него будет оказано психологическое и физическое давление, со стороны подконтрольных администрации тюрьмы уголовников, вплоть до инсценирования самоубийства. Это будет сделано в ближайшие несколько суток, если Александр не даст «нужные» показания следствию, на себя и других участников политической оппозиции России, а также – откажется работать на ФСБ.

They’re planning to put Alexander in a cell—the so-called “sweat box”—where he’ll face psychological and physical pressure from other inmates under the control of the prison administration, up to an imitation of suicide. This will be done in the next few days, if Alexander doesn’t hand over the “required” evidence to investigators, incriminating himself and other participants in Russia’s political opposition, or if he refuses to work for the FSB.

Basmanov is organizing a demonstration on November 12, outside the jailhouse where Belov now sits, to support his brother and oppose “extrajudicial execution.”

Several prominent Russian oppositionists have endorsed the rally, republishing Basmanov’s LJ post. Alexey Navalny, who is currently under house arrest, has collaborated with Belov in the past. Navalny called on readers to help him now:

The FSB threatens to kill Alexander Belov in pretrial detention. He needs your help.

Vladimir Milov, another Russian oppositionist with nationalist leanings, made a similar appeal, tweeting:

Just look at the craziness happening with Belov. I don’t doubt that the FSB is putting the screws to him.

Mark Feygin, one of Pussy Riot’s former lawyers, says the alleged plot against Belov reminds him of how prison authorities treated Ilya Goryachev, one of Feygin’s former clients. (Goryachev, who attempted suicide earlier this year, claims he has been tortured in prison.)

In fact, with Belov, it’s the same as with my client, Goryachev: a warning, the sweat box, then the razor blade.

Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, the only man in Russia’s parliament to vote against the annexation of Crimea, also threw his support behind the rally for Belov, tweeting:

Belov’s no friend of mine, but the truth is worth more. We have to help him! [November] 12 at noon, rally outside detention center 5, “Vodnik.”

Despite the show of public support, things don’t look good for Belov, whose relationship with the police wasn’t always so bad. In 2006, for instance, he even attended a banquet at the Kremlin to celebrate “Police Day,” where he reportedly bragged about his contacts among Russia’s senior counterintelligence officers. Eight years later, confined to a jail cell at “Vodnik,” he’s got far less to brag about.

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