Tuesday, March 03, 2009

From Left Field: From a Belarus Prison, U.S. Lawyer's Last Battle

Bob Drogan writes in The Los Angeles Times:

One of post-Soviet Russia's most powerful oligarchs, Badri Patarkatsishvili, left a business empire worth billions of dollars when he died of a heart attack in England on Feb. 12 last year.

What he didn't leave, according to his family, was a will.

But two days later, an obscure New York lawyer named Emanuel Zeltser appeared at the wake and told the grieving widow that her late husband had signed a secret will, given him power of attorney, and named a half-cousin in Florida as executor.

The news stunned the family. So did the events that followed.

Over the next month, Zeltser and the half-cousin sought access to the mogul's investments around the globe. The family sued in U.S. federal court, accusing the two Americans of trying to loot the huge estate with forged documents.

Then Zeltser flew -- or was kidnapped -- to Belarus, a former Soviet republic. He was immediately arrested and charged with economic espionage and use of false official documents to defraud the estate. He denied the charges, but was sentenced in a closed-door trial to three years in prison, where he remains today.

How Zeltser landed in Penal Colony #15 in eastern Belarus involves more than a bare-knuckle legal battle. It is a startling tale of a hard-charging U.S. lawyer who has fought allegations of fraud and forgery in the past, and now is ensnared in a case that may cost him his life.

That has turned the situation into an official U.S. concern.

More here.

Note: This story is rather fascinating to me, for some odd reason, perhaps because there seems to be a lot of details missing about some of the events described in this article. Maybe I'll poke around a bit more... -ferg


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