|Born||Alexander Pavlovich Konanykhin (Александр Павлович Конаныхин)
September 25, 1966
|Residence||New York City, New York, U.S.|
|Citizenship||Russia, Italy, and Argentina|
|Alma mater||Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Edinburgh Business School|
|Known for||Entrepreneur, former banker|
|Spouse(s)||Silvina Moschini (current),
Elena Gratcheva (deceased)
|Awards||2004 New York Businessman of the Year, Republican National Committee
2011 WW IT Visionary Award from CIO Magazine
Alex Konanykhin (born Alexander Pavlovich Konanykhin (Russian: Александр Павлович Конаныхин) September 25, 1966) is an entrepreneur and former banker. He started his career by founding a private bank in Russia towards the end of communist rule. Konanykhin is sometimes spelled as Konanykhine.
Konanykhin and his wife left Russia in 1992, and seven years later were granted political asylum in the United States. The asylum grants were reversed in 2004, but reinstated in 2007. He spent his business career largely in the United States, being a citizen of Italy, Russia, and Argentina. He has founded companies including KMGi Group and TransparentBusiness. His company WikiExperts.us, which offers editing services on Wikipedia, was banned from editing on the online encyclopedia on October 17, 2013.
Konanykhin studied at the Department of Space Research at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology to pursue a career in engineering. In 1986, he was expelled from MIPT for running a small business during his summer vacation. After his expulsion, he took advantage of the loosening business climate during Mikhail Gorbachev's economic reforms (perestroika). Within a few years, he became the head of a $30 Million construction enterprise.
Career in Russia
By the early 1990s in Russia, Konanykhin amassed a $300 million banking and real estate empire. In 1991, Konanykhin founded the Russian Exchange Bank, which became the first institution to receive a currency-trading license from the Yeltsin government. In 1992, he was one of the delegates to accompany Yeltsin to Washington, D.C., where they met with President George H. W. Bush, and afterwards, in Canada with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
In 1992 he was kidnapped while on a business trip to Budapest, Hungary, during which time his business assets in Russia were seized. Konanykhin fled to New York where he delivered protest letters to senior Moscow officials and members of the press warning of the looming "mafiocracy".
"I am addressing this letter”, he wrote on September 6, 1992, “to warn you of a serious political danger -- the seizure of large commercial organizations by mafia-opposition circles that will stop at nothing to achieve their ends."
When there were no responses to his letters, he contacted President Yeltsin directly.
This prompted an investigation by the Moscow-based military prosecutor's office, and Konanykhin soon found himself under investigation. The prosecutor, Alexander Volvodez, now charged Konanykhin with illegally wiring $8.1 million from the Russian Exchange Bank to overseas accounts, and demanded his extradition to Russia.
As hearings in American federal court would later show, during this time the FBI had opened a division in Moscow; because American prosecutors and FBI officials were anxious to develop a relationship with Russian law enforcement officials, they had agreed to assist Volvodez in his request for Konanykhin's deportation. However, as Russia and the United States do not have an extradition treaty, Justice Department officials agreed to try to deport him for violating immigration laws under a minor visa violation. The allegation was later proven false and dismissed during Konanykhin's first grant of asylum in 1999.
First immigration trial
On June 27, 1996, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents along with Russian federal prosecutors arrested Konanykhin and his wife, Elena Gratcheva, at their Watergate apartment in Washington, D.C. The couple was taken to Arlington, Virginia, and charged in federal immigration court with violating the conditions of their temporary U.S. visas. Between July 19 and August 2, 1996, hearings were held by Judge John M. Bryant to determine if, as Konanykhin claimed, his deportation was being masterminded by Russian prosecutor Volvodez for political reasons, and if Konanykhin's life and/or freedom were in danger. The trial touched upon issues as to whether the secret police had taken over the Russian banking industry, and also if the United States government had been fooled into going after Konanykhin.
In court Konanykhin testified he was being targeted by Volvodez and the Russian government because of his anti-corruption campaign, and his lawyers argued that he had transferred money to private accounts to prevent it from being stolen. Appearing as witnesses at the trial were FBI agents who testified that the Russian mafia had previously taken out a contract on Konanykhin’s life. Also appearing were former INS prosecutor, Antoinette Rizzi, who had previously been in charge of the government's case against Konanykhin, and former KGB agent Yuri Shvets. Both Rizzi and Shvets testified that they had serious doubts about the charges filed against Konanykhin by Volvodez and the American government.
On August 26, 1996 in Federal Court in Arlington, Virginia, a settlement agreement was reached between Konanykhin, who had spent more than 13 months in INS custody, although Gratcheva had been released on supervision, and the District Director of the Arlington INS District Office, and endorsed by District Judge T.S. Ellis III. Judge Ellis stated that he found the testimonies of Yuri Shvets and Antoinette Rizzi in Konanykhin's immigration case “credible and somewhat disturbing”. ordered the INS to pay $100,000 of Konanykhin's legal fees to pro bono counsel at Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn. The settlement also ordered Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer to confirm within 30 days that there would be an internal probe by the Department of Justice into the conduct of INS lawyers at the hearing.
Libel lawsuits and political asylum
In a lawsuit filed in February 1997 with the Arlington County Circuit Court, Konanykhin alleged defamation against the daily Russian newspaper Izvestia which had reported that Konanykhin was involved in various criminal acts. The suit claimed that the information was erroneous and published with "reckless disregard for its truth or actual malice.” An Arlington County Circuit Court jury recommended Konanykhin be awarded $33.5 million. Soon thereafter the same court awarded him an additional $3 million in a libel case against the Russian financial journal Kommersant. According to The Sunday Times, in 2010 the amount remained the largest amount ever awarded to an individual in a libel suit.
On February 23, 1999, Judge Bryant granted political asylum to Konanykhin and Gratcheva, saying the former banker faced persecution and possible death if returned to Russia to face embezzlement charges. In his decision, Bryant wrote that testimony from several experts had convinced him that Konanykhin was being targeted for prosecution for political reasons.
Temporarily freed from his trials with the Russian and American governments, Konanykhin and Gratcheva went on to develop a $100 million Internet startup in New York called KMGi, among other businesses. On November 20, 2003, however, the Board of Immigration Appeals revoked Konanykhin's political asylum and ordered him returned to Russia. The ruling came less than a month (October 25, 2003) after the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Konanykhin's former banking rival in Russia and business partner during his exile. Konanykhin had served as vice president for the international development of Khodorkovsky's bank, Menatep.
Second immigration trial
Konanykhin and Gratcheva fled to the Canadian border to evade immigration authorities. There, on December 18, 2003, they were arrested by several Department of Homeland Security agents at the Peace Bridge. Konanykhin and Gratcheva were saved from deportation at the last minute by a series of emergency hearings in Federal Court. On January 26, 2004, Judge T.S. Ellis III delivered his ruling, which found the arrest unlawful, and allowed the couple to stay in the United States temporarily, until appeals in their immigration case were exhausted.
Career in America
He and his first wife established the Internet firms KMGi (an advertising agency), Publicity Guaranteed (a public relations firm), and The Syndicated News, an online marketplace. In 2004, Konanykhin was named “New York Businessman of the Year” by the Republican National Committee.
His firm, KMGI established a subsidiary, WikiExperts.us, a business centered around creating Wikipedia articles for companies. Paid editing of Wikipedia has sparked considerable debate, due to conflicts of interest. Konanykhin has called for a boycott of Wikipedia fundraising campaigns, "We believe that boycotting fundraising efforts of Wikipedia might compel it to raise billions via advertising and develop content of significantly better quality."
In 2011 Konanykhin was named the winner of the WW IT Visionary Award by CIO Magazine (in Spanish: WW IT Visionary 2011 de CIO America Latina). In 2011 Konanykhin's firm KMGi founded TransparentBusiness, which allows employers or clients to monitor the activity of those working for them on computers.
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- Brian Haig's book, The Hunted (ISBN 0-446-19559-6), is a novel based on the life of Alex Konanykhin and Elena Gratcheva. The book is dedicated to the late Gratcheva.
- St. Petersburg Times
- U.S. Judge Rules Konanykhin Can Stay, For Now
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- U.S. Judge Rules Konanykhin Can Stay, For Now
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- US COURT TO HEAR FORMER RUSSIAN BANKER'S CASE
- US authorities arrested Khodorkovsky's former partner
- Geopolitics: The new Cold War 
- Konanykhin Finds No Freedom in U.S.
- Immigration panel backs off effort to deport Russian banker
- Russian Banker Released From Custody In USA
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- SeeCommunity ban proposal for paid editing firm wikiexperts.us
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- Constable, “From Russia with Chutzpah.”
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