Case Studies

Nikita Kulachenkov: Under threat from INTERPOL


Nikita Kulachenkov worked for ten years as an investigative accountant, looking into issues such as corporate fraud and money laundering. His problems began when he started working for the Anti-Corruption Foundation in Russia, which was established by Alexei Navalny, the leading Russian opposition figure.

Two years after starting work with the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Nikita found that a criminal investigation had been initiated against him. Nikita was accused, together with another person from the foundation, of stealing an artwork. In fact, the artwork in question was a poster that was left in the street, in a small town outside of Moscow. It was one of many posters that were there, and which generally stay there until people take them or they’re destroyed by the rain. It’s unclear whether there have been other prosecutions against people taking the posters.

Nikita and a colleague had taken the poster to give as a gift to Alexei Navalny. As soon as this became known by the security services surrounding the  Anti-Corruption Foundation, the authorities began a criminal case. They tracked down the artist responsible for the picture, and after two months, they were able to get a statement from him. Despite the picture not being of high value (the artist initially said it was worth two dollars), the criminal case was investigated by the top level Russian authorities – the Investigative Committee – set up to investigate the most important crimes in the country. Worried that the case may not be dealt with entirely fairly, Nikita left the country and claimed asylum in Europe.

Recognising that he was under threat, Nikita proactively got in touch with INTERPOL: he described his situation and asked the international policing organisation to watch out for any attempts from Russian authorities to unlawfully catch him through INTERPOL systems. Later on, Nikita learned that he had been charged in absentia in his home country, and that he had been put on a wanted list in Russia.

Having been recognised as a refugee and been granted new travel documents, Nikita travelled to Cyprus to visit his family. Upon his arrival at the border, he was stopped and arrested by the Cypriot police because of an INTERPOL diffusion which requested his extradition back to Russia. Because of this diffusion notice, Nikita was held for three weeks in the Nicosia prison.

He was eventually released and the extradition was not carried out. However, despite INTERPOL’s reassurances, Nikita cannot be sure that his diffusion notice is not still stored on computers at border points all over the world, which means that he could still be arrested and possibly extradited to Russia.