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Australian Government refuses asylum for Kremlin whistleblower

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Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

A British contractor who revealed secret Russian information is seeking asylum for his family to avoid possible execution, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

IN 2006, British contractor Nick Stride was hired to work on the refurbishment of a palace under construction for Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov, on his estate outside Moscow. The project included the construction of a luxurious greenhouse known as the “Wintergarden” and the cost of the refurbishment is thought to be in excess of $140 million.

Shuvalov is widely regarded as one of the more “liberal” of President Putin’s close associates — a “counterpoint” to the hardliners dominant in the Kremlin. He is credited with strengthening business relations between the U.S. and Russia, improving the problematic reputation of Russia’s international commerce, and is thought to enjoy a good relationship with Putin.

Using the pseudonym “Lucas”, Stride blew the whistle on Shuvalov’s complex web of financial manipulations, including dubious transactions and avoidance of customs tax on materials imported to refurbish the estate and construct the greenhouse. “Lucas” provided relevant documents to journalist and author Michael Weiss, including copies of invoices. The labyrinthine details of Shuvalov’s financial arrangements for the refurbishment of his estate can be seen here in a marvellously complex account written by Weiss for Foreign Policy, an account for which Stride was the source.

In 2010, Nick Stride and his family were threatened with “severe consequences” should they ever attempt to leave Russia, because of his extensive knowledge of Shuvalov’s business dealings. Fearing for their lives, the family escaped Russia and fled to Britain. However, believing they were still far too vulnerable to Russian retribution, Stride brought his family to Australia where they requested political asylum.

A Refugee Review Tribunal assessor found the danger they feared to be real, yet despite this assessment, their plea for asylum was rejected in 2012. Successive immigration ministers have refused to intervene to prevent the family’s deportation. Stride and his children will be deported to Britain, while his wife and their mother, Ludmila Kovateva, will be sent by Immigration Minister David Coleman to Russia. Ludmila faces almost certain execution in her home country as retaliation by Shuvalov for her husband’s exposure of his financial affairs to U.S. media.

On Thursday 17 January, Michael Weiss posted several tweets, appealing for Australian legal assistance for the Stride family and revealing Nick, with his permission, as his source, “Lucas”.

Also using Twitter to bring the Stride family’s perilous situation to public global notice is financier and economist Bill Browder, perhaps best known for his successful lobbying of the U.S. Government to pass into law the Magnitsky Act, legislation that authorises the U.S. Government to sanction human rights offenders, freeze their assets and deny them entry to the country. Browder is also the author of Red Notice, an account of Browder’s own experience of falling foul of Putin, his deportation from Russia and his relationship with Magnitsky, who was both his lawyer and his friend.

The only coverage of the Stride family’s situation by Australian media this writer has been able to find appears to be this piece in the West Australian, dated March 2018. That isn’t to say coverage doesn’t exist and any links will be appreciated. This is a story of immense interest, given the current global political situation and it’s inexplicable the mainstream media aren’t all over it.

The people going into bat for the Stride family against the intransigent Australian Immigration Minister know of what they speak. Weiss is an authority on Russia and, specifically, its propaganda. Browder conducted a highly successful financial career in Russia before being deported. He has also testified to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Their concern for Nick Stride, Ludmila Kovateva and their children is palpable. And yet, the Australian Immigration Minister, undoubtedly supported by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, continue to refuse asylum to this family.

Why is this so?

And why are the mainstream media apparently entirely uninterested in the family’s fate?  

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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