“Due to the fact that Ponomaryov is knowingly hiding outside Russia’s borders and ignores summonses from investigators, in early July he was put on the international wanted list,” TASS quoted an unnamed source in Russian law enforcement as saying.
It also said that Ponomaryov left Russia for the United States of America in July 2014 and since then Russian law enforcers had no information about his location.
On Friday the Basmanny District Court in Moscow ordered Ponomaryov’s arrest in absentia over the Skolkovo embezzlement case and confirmed the fact of an international search warrant issued on him.
The Russian Investigative Committee began a separate criminal probe against Ponomaryov in April this year, but the case itself dates back to 2010. The delay was apparently caused by the fact that the former MP enjoyed parliamentary immunity and was only assisting in the alleged corruption scheme. The main charges against him are that he had received $750,000 for a research paper and several lectures, which he delivered only partially.
In earlier comments Ponomaryov pleaded his innocence, saying that the fees were fair and proportionate to the amount of work done.
However, the investigation and subsequent court hearings proved the allegations to be true and the court ordered the MP to return the money. It was then that Ponomaryov fled Russia over fears that bailiffs would ban his trips abroad over an unpaid debt.
In early April, the State Duma almost unanimously voted to have Ponomaryov’s parliamentary immunity revoked.
It should be noted that even before losing the parliamentary mandate Ponomaryov was at odds with the rest of the Duma, including his own Fair Russia party. He actively participated in 2011 street protests against alleged violations in parliamentary polls and was expelled from the party – its leaders saying it was not right for any lawmaker to claim that the election was not fair and yet remain in a parliament established by that very election. However, Ponomaryov retained his seat, as by the law he could only be stripped of it through a criminal trial and sentence.
On Thursday evening, Ponomaryov told Russian News radio that he was sure that no country in the world would hand him over to the Russian justice system. He also repeated his argument that the case was purely political and promised that he would attempt to prove his innocence in international courts.
Ponomaryov is the sixth State Duma deputy deprived of parliamentary immunity since the last parliamentary polls. The others were three Communist Party MPs and two Fair Russia MPs. The criminal charges against them are, variously, embezzlement, attempted embezzlement and in one case violence against a representative of the state authorities.