The Professional Class Flees Russia

Article excerpt

Byline: Owen Matthews

A new generation of exiles is fleeing Russia, and they're well-heeled and educated. Businesspeople, lawyers, accountants, and bankers say they're leaving the country after being robbed and threatened with false arrest by crooked law-enforcement officials. Exact numbers on the exodus are difficult to pin down, but it's safe to say that thousands of well-to-do Russian professionals now living abroad don't dare return to their homeland for fear that the state's representatives will throw them in jail for the crime of making an honest profit. Police are believed to be colluding with organized criminals to seize control of legitimate businesses.

The crackdown is startling in its pace and scope. The anticorruption watchdog group Transparency International estimates that a third of Russian businesses have been targeted by police in attempted corporate raids. An anti-raider hotline set up by Moscow's City Hall has reported a 10-fold jump in complaints, from 200 to more than 2,000 over the last year, and the European Union says 20,447 Russians sought political asylum there last year. Many others have sought EU business visas or U.S. green cards in order to continue their careers. (Asylum seekers are allowed to do only limited work in much of the EU.)

The problem is no secret: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has angrily warned the country's bureaucrats to "stop terrorizing business," and blasted Russia's culture of "legal nihilism. …