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World News /29 Oct 2018

Protection Sought for Russian Whistleblowers in the UK

A Russian opinion poll indicates that just 3% of Russians surveyed believe that their nation’s security services were responsible for the attempt to assassinate ex-spy Sergei Skripal and concerns have been raised about the risks to another Russian exiles in the UK.

The British Home Office has been asked what protection is being provided for a UK-based Russian who is due to give evidence in a high-profile corruption case in Russia.

Dmitry Zakharchenko, deputy head of Moscow’s Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Committee for Economic Security and Combating Corruption, was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, October 30th on suspicion of abuse of power, obstruction of justice and accepting bribes.

German Gorbuntsov, a Russian citizen residing in the UK, is supposed to give evidence in the trial but has expressed fears for his personal safety and has requested protection.

Gorbuntsov’s situation has been compared to that of Russian whistleblower Alexander Perepilichny, who died mysteriously near his Surrey home while reportedly helping a Swiss investigation into Russian money laundering. Others compare him with Sergei Skripal, the former double agent whose spying on the Russian security services is thought to have led to the attempt on his and his daughter’s lives earlier this year. Gorbuntsov, once an insider within President Vladimir Putin’s circle, is regarded by some to be a potentially valuable source for UK authorities.

Late last week, Russian pollster the Levada Center published poll results indicating just three percent of Russians believe the British claim that Russia’s military intelligence service carried out the Skripal attack. It said 28% believe the attempted killing was carried out by British intelligence services, while 56% concluded that “it could have been anyone.”

Gorbuntsov’s case has been taken up by Denis MacShane, who served as minister with responsibility for Russian affairs in Tony Blair’s government. He has written to Ben Wallace, the UK Minister of State for State Security, asking him to accede to Gorbuntsov’s plea.

The letter, seen by this website, reads, “Because of a long-standing interest in Russia dating back to when I was Minister of State at the FCO responsible for Russia I have been approached by lawyers representing German Gorbuntsov, a Russian citizen currently in London.”

“Let me stress I do not know and have never met with Mr. Gorbuntsov. However, he is well known to the Home Office and Metropolitan Police as he was a victim of a failed assassination attempt in March 2012 in London.”

It was reported that Gorbuntsov’s assailant, a Moldovan hired by Russian business men who were in dispute with Gorbuntsov, was convicted and is now in jail in Moldova.

MacShane adds, “However the reason I was approached was that Gorbuntsov is a helping the Russian authorities in an important court case involving serious accusations of corruption and money laundering against a Russian official.”

He writes, “I wonder if there is any mechanism that allows him to be protected at least for the visit to swear the affidavit. I know all relations with Russia and involving Russians are tricky and I admire the strong approach you have taken.”

Zakharchenko, 39, was arrested back in 2016 after a police search allegedly found $123 million in his apartment.

A court ruled he should remain in custody until November 8th.

Zakharchenko said the money did not belong to him and his defence filed an appeal against his detention.

Gorbuntsov used to own several banks in Russia and Moldova but has lived in the UK for several years.

In March, 2012 Gorbuntsov was shot by a submachine gun as he entered his London home. He remained under 24-hour armed security watch for a period of time after the attempted murder.

He said the motive for the shooting was that he was about to give a formal statement about the alleged involvement of former associates in the assassination attempt of another businessman.

His friends have written an open letter asking for better protection for witnesses in serious criminal cases in the UK.

It says, “The authorities need to pay closer attention to the protection of witnesses in such cases. It was a miracle that Gorbuntsov survived the previous attack and he fears for his safety.”

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