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U.S. Businessman Sits In Pretrial Detention In Moscow

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Another American is in a Moscow jail. He is the second U.S. citizen arrested inside Russia within two months. NPR's Lucian Kim has the story of Michael Calvey, a businessman who has run an investment fund in Russia for years.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Michael Calvey is being accused of stealing the equivalent of almost $40 million from a Russian business partner. And he's considered such a flight risk that he's being held in pretrial detention until mid-April. Calvey says the real reason for his arrest is a business dispute. And Russian media report the man behind the lawsuit is friends with the son of a top security official. Some of the biggest names in Russia's business community have publicly vouched for Calvey's character. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters justice must be allowed to run its course.

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DMITRY PESKOV: (Through interpreter) This could've happened to any entrepreneur in any country. Of course, we're well aware of Michael's investment activity on the Russian market over the course of many years.

KIM: Calvey is a legend in Moscow for his smart investments and squeaky-clean reputation. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, he opened one of Russia's first private equity firms in 1994. At the time, Moscow was a magnet for young Americans looking to make a fortune in Russia's chaotic transition to capitalism.

JAMES FENKNER: This was a time when Americans - we really walked on water in Russia. This was a time of amazing openness, an amazing desire to understand how to rebuild Russia with a more powerful economic system.

KIM: James Fenkner met Calvey in the 1990s and worked in Russia for almost 15 years before he joined a growing exodus of Western investors. But Calvey was a tireless advocate for doing business in Russia. He once said in an interview that there are crooks everywhere and that 99 percent of his Russian business partners worked in good faith. At last year's St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, he explained in Russian why he was so upbeat.

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MICHAEL CALVEY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Calvey said he's an optimist because life's too short. Now, less than a year later, he's in a Russian jail - the second U.S. citizen to be held in pretrial detention in Moscow since Michigan resident Paul Whelan was arrested on spying charges in December. The usually reticent U.S. Embassy in Moscow openly criticized Russian authorities for delaying consular access to Calvey. The fact a well-known businessman is even in jail before being convicted highlights the plight of thousands of Russian entrepreneurs kept in pretrial detention. Investor James Fenkner says Calvey's detention suggests he's being put under pressure to settle a business dispute.

FENKNER: When you're sitting in a Russian cell in March with your only, you know, real luxury being some hot water, you don't have a great deal of leverage.

KIM: Days after Calvey's arrest, President Vladimir Putin gave his annual state of the nation address.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Putin criticized the practice of putting business people in pretrial detention, but that's not going to help Michael Calvey. Putin gave officials until the end of the year to figure out how to improve the system. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.