Russian court frees U.S. investor Calvey from jail

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court released U.S. investor Michael Calvey on Thursday after two months in jail and placed him under house arrest, softening his treatment in a fraud case that has rattled the business community.

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Calvey, founder of the Baring Vostok private equity group, was detained in February pending a trial on embezzlement charges that he denies and that he says are being used to pressure him in a corporate dispute over control of a Russian bank.

“Despite this corporate conflict that has led to criminal prosecution, I would like to underline what I have always said: I continue to believe in Russia’s investment potential,” Calvey said from a glass cage.

Dressed casually in jeans, the Wisconsin-born 51-year-old spoke to a packed courtroom in fluent, slightly accented Russian. He insisted that he posed no flight risk as it was a question of “honour” for him to restore a business reputation he made over almost 30 years working in Russia.

The court ruled to place him under house arrest until Saturday and investigators have called for the court at a hearing on Friday to extend the house arrest order until July 14.

Several prominent officials and businessmen had lobbied for the release of Calvey and other Baring Vostok executives detained with him, and had called their pre-trial incarceration unduly harsh.

Senior pro-business figures in Russia’s establishment say the case has had a chilling effect on the business climate that is already under pressure from Western sanctions, sluggish economic growth and rouble volatility.

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In a gesture of support for the embattled equity group, Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, told Reuters his organization plans to jointly invest with Baring Vostok in the next couple of months.

Dmitriev said he could not give further details, other than that the deal was in the technology sector and that the overall value of the joint investment would be under $100 million.

Prosecutors told the court they were happy for Calvey to be released from custody as he had three children, as well as property in Russia, and that several prominent businessmen had publicly vouched for him.

Baring Vostok, one of Russia’s oldest private equity groups, said it hoped that similar steps would also be made to release the fund’s other detained executives.

Baring Vostok partners Vagan Abgaryan and Philippe Delpal as well as investment director Ivan Zyuzin remain in detention.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; additional reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe/Mark Heinrich