Michael Calvey's arrest sends message to foreign investors in Russia
Mike Calvey was an American success story in Moscow. The U.S. citizen and University of Oklahoma alum founded Baring Vostok Capital Partners in 1994, investing nearly $3 billion into local companies — including an early bet in Yandex at a valuation of just $15 million (current market cap on the Nasdaq is $10.3 billion).
Where they stand: Now Calvey is in a Russian jail, as are three of his BVCP partners, on fraud charges related to what Western eyes would view as a civil shareholder dispute. More specifically, Calvey is being quarantined in a solitary cell, reportedly without any money in his "jail account" to even buy basic toiletries.
- "The arrest of Michael Calvey sends two messages to foreign investors: The rules of the Russian business jungle apply even to those who do things by the book — and neither foreign citizenship nor a stellar investment record are grounds for an exemption. The Kremlin appears happy to underline both," writes The Moscow Times.
What happened: BVCP in 2010 acquired a Russian consumer bank that soon fell on hard times, eventually merging with a fellow troubled lender led by a local investor known for his government ties.
- Things soured quickly, with Calvey accusing the investor of asset-stripping his bank prior to the merger — including via a London legal action that's now in arbitration.
- The Russian investor, via an associate, countered by arguing that BVCP artificially inflated the value of what it contributed to the merger; and it's that accusation that resulted in Calvey's criminal arrest. Seriously.
- Calvey and BVCP deny any wrongdoing, and his fellow BVCP partners remain physically in Russia. This includes Elena Ivashentseva, who originally sourced the Yandex investment, and is now co-leading the firm on an interim basis alongside Alexei Kalinin.
The bottom line: Foreign direct investment in Russia had already fallen off a cliff, and this is basically throwing an anvil on top of it. Any outside investor who considered opening the next BVCP, or even a Russian satellite fund, will now wait to see the Calvey situation resolved.
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