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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Russia's legal system made global headlines yesterday, after a Moscow court sentenced opposition leader Alexei Navalny to a multi-year prison term for parole violations.

In a different Moscow court this week, U.S.-born investor Mike Calvey began fighting for his own freedom against very long odds.

Backstory: Calvey in 1994 founded Baring Vostok Capital Partners, a Russia-based venture capital and private equity firm that's invested billions of dollars into local companies, including Yandex and Ozon.

  • In early 2019, Calvey and several colleagues were arrested on criminal embezzlement charges, stemming from BCVP's 2010 acquisition of a troubled Russian consumer bank.
  • The bank faltered and later merged with another struggling lender that was led by an investor with Russian government ties. Calvey accused the investor of asset-stripping, and the investor countered by accusing Calvey of artificially inflating his bank's value.
  • That investor's accusation ultimately led to Calvey's arrest, even though it read like a commercial shareholder dispute — a civil matter rather than a criminal one.

Fast forward: Calvey and the other investor eventually settled their issues out of court, with Baring Vostok paying around $33 million but not admitting any guilt.

  • That settlement did not solve Calvey's problem with Russian authorities.

What he's saying: Calvey, in his opening statement to the court, pleaded not guilty and argued that investigators intentionally ignored exculpatory evidence. He also called the charges both "unfair" and "illegal."

  • But it's not clear that Calvey's words will matter, as Russian prosecutors have a longstanding conviction rate above 99%
  • Some of Calvey's supporters argue that the civil settlement could make him the exception to the rule, but that may just be wishful thinking.

The bottom line: Calvey's fate may double as the fate of Western investment in Russia, particularly for deals that may require in-person diligence or negotiation. If he goes away, so does such activity.

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Feb 2, 2021 - World

Alexei Navalny sentenced to prison

Navalny is escorted to prison by police. Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to about 2.5 years in prison, officially for violating parole while he recovered in Germany from an assassination attempt.

Driving the news: A 3.5-year suspended sentence dating from 2014 — stemming from charges that were widely seen as politically motivated — was turned into a prison term, minus the 10 months Navalny previously spent under house arrest. His arrest last month upon his return to Russia sparked widespread protests over the past two weekends.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.