A recent editorial in the Moscow Times calls on the U.S. to deny political asylum to Ashot Yegiazaryan, a member of the Russian Duma from the nationalistic Liberal Democratic Party, who fled to the United States to escape criminal charges related to some shady business deals.
Like a number of Russian oligarchs, Mr. Yegiazaryan made his money in the freewheeling 1990?s and then entered politics. His troubles began when a multi-billion dollar business deal in Moscow went bad, and lawsuits and criminal accusations followed. Ultimately, Mr. Yegiazaryan left Russia and made his way to (where else?) Beverly Hills. Now, depending on the rumor you choose to believe, he will be seeking political asylum in the United States, or he already has a green card. Mr. Yegiazaryan has denied the latter rumor, as it is apparently illegal for a member of the Duma to hold residency in another country. In the mean time, the Russian Duma has stripped Mr. Yegiazaryan of his immunity and the Russian government is pursuing criminal charges.
This scenario–of a businessman rising rapidly to wealth and prominence only to be brought down by criminal charges and accusations of fraud–seems common in Russia these days. When I was a law clerk at the Arlington Immigration Court (in 1999), I worked on such a case. Alex Konanykhin, was a Russian businessman whose case bounced between the Immigration Court, the BIA, and the U.S. District Court. In the end, he received asylum and wrote a book about his experience. Then, of course, there is the case of Russia’s richest businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is currently sitting in a Russian prison, convicted of criminal fraud.
Like these other cases, it is difficult to tell whether Mr. Yegiazaryan is a criminal or a victim. What’s clear in his case, however, is that he is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, a party founded and dominated by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has made many anti-Semetic and rascist remarks.
Whether, as the Moscow Times posits, Mr. Yegiazaryan should be denied political asylum (assuming that he qualifies for asylum in the first place) on account of his membership in the LDP may be a complex question. If the LDP has “ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in” the persecution of people based on a protected ground, than Mr. Yegiazaryan would not be eligible for asylum. The key word here is “incited.” I do not know what Mr. Yegiazaryan might have said or done, but others in his party, in particular the party’s leader, Mr. Zhirinovsky, have accused Jews of ruining Russia, sending Russian women to foreign countries as prostitutes, selling children and organs, and provoking the Holocaust. That sounds like incitement to me. At the minimum, for Mr. Yegiazaryan to win asylum, he will have some explaining to do.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.