Russian law enforcement agencies clashed in court Friday in a case blaming the billionaire owner of the nation’s biggest airport for alleged safety violations that officials say led to the deaths of 37 people in a suicide bombing five years ago.
The case involving Moscow’s Domomedovo airport owner Dmitry Kamenshchik has been seen by many in Russia as an attempt by politically-connected business circles to seize a prized asset. It also marked a rare case in which Russian prosecutors actually defended a suspect.
Kamenshchik, 47, whose fortune was estimated by Forbes magazine at $2.9 billion, had turned a rundown, decrepit airport into a modern, highly successful venture.
But he was accused by Russia’s Investigative Committee of failing to meet safety requirements, which it said led to the bombing deaths on Jan. 24, 2011. The attack in the airport’s international arrivals area also wounded 180 others and was claimed by Chechen rebels.
The Investigative Committee, the nation’s top investigative agency, claimed that by waiving blanket checks of passengers at the airport’s entrance, Kamenshchik made it vulnerable. Kamenshchik denied the accusations, saying that blanket inspections weren’t required by law at the time.
Three senior managers of Domodedovo earlier had been placed in custody in the same case.
The Investigative Committee placed Kamenshchik under arrest Thursday, but backed off a bit Friday, asking a Moscow court to put him under house arrest. But in a twist, government prosecutors disputed the Investigative Committee’s case, calling the accusations unfounded.
The judge, however, sided with the Investigative Committee, placing Kamenshchik under house arrest for two months. Prosecutors said they would appeal.
Kamenshchik’s arrest has sent shock waves across Russia’s business community, with many seeing it as yet another case of government-connected businessmen relying on law enforcement agencies to try to snap up Russia’s most attractive economic assets.
Experts said the charges against Kamenshchik would further erode investors’ confidence in Russia and contribute to continuing capital flight.
“We shouldn’t be surprised when we hear that investments in Russia are continuing to fall and the economy is going down,” wrote Sergey Aleksashenko, Russia’s former deputy finance minister who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Vladimir Putin was informed about the case. Peskov refrained from commenting on the case, saying it’s up to court to determine if Kamenshchik is guilty.