Baring Vostok case: in Moscow, the hour of the verdict for the French Philippe Delpal

This Monday, after six months of trial and two and a half years of politico-judicial saga, a Moscow court is due to give its verdict in the Baring Vostok case. Since the arrest on February 14, 2019 of Michael Calvey, the American founder of this Russian investment fund, of Philippe Delpal, the French banker in charge of financial services, but also of five Russian colleagues, the affair has cast a chill on the business climate in Moscow.

In a justice known for its dependence on the authorities and its guilt rate approaching 100%, the prosecution’s requisitions have dampened the hopes of the defense. He requested suspended sentences of six and five years respectively against Michael Calvey and Philippe Delpal – from four to five years for the five Russians.

This suspended prison sentence could herald a compromise at the end of this case that looks like a set-up. By requesting detention, the prosecutor concludes guilt. But by requesting the stay, he indirectly recognizes the weakness of his argument. A real false compromise which would allow the security structures and investigators behind the prosecutions not to lose face.

Put a shareholder in jail

Baring Vostok has been overtaken by what is often the daily life of companies in Russia: one shareholder gets rid of another by putting him in jail. In order to bail out its Vostochny Express bank, the fund joined forces with Artem Avetisyan, a financier with a contested reputation. He felt aggrieved during the recapitalization and the granting of a loan to the bank.

Before an arbitration in London promising to be unfavorable, he is suspected of having wanted to settle his criminal dispute through high-ranking contacts. Baring Vostok was prosecuted for embezzling an amount of 2.5 billion rubles (some 28 million euros), a crime punishable by ten years in prison. Until then, no Western businessman had been arrested in Russia in this type of settling of accounts.

No tangible proof

Hearing after hearing, the defense sought to show the prosecution’s contradictions. The investigator and the prosecution were all the more challenged as the leaders of Baring Vostok signed an amicable agreement on the commercial aspect in the hope that this would promote a conciliatory approach in the criminal proceedings. But the final requisition came to conclude an often surrealist trial. “The fact that no one has been able to produce evidence is confirmation that Baring Vostok’s team was highly qualified to conceal it”, the prosecutor was content to argue, for lack of tangible proof on the existence of an organized criminal group.

A “thorn” for the Quai d’Orsay

“Prosecutors are trying to smear my reputation. Do not let my friends and my children doubt ”, replied Philippe Delpal who, with his lawyers, was the most resolute and fighter of the defendants to demonstrate the absurdity of this affair. Supporting documents, they recalled that all of the funds involved were traced and that the credit behind the alleged crime actually saved the bank.

Respected by his peers since moving to Russia in 2003, a former Société Générale executive then head of the BNP Paribas subsidiary, Philippe Delpal joined Baring Vostok, in charge of financial services. His arrest, for six months as a preventive measure and since under house arrest, is “a thorn” in the confidence of Franco-Russian business circles, regretted Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

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