Russian fishing executive wanted by Interpol is living in Bellevue
BELLEVUE, Wash. -- A Russian fugitive wanted by prosecutors in that country for allegedly stealing millions of dollars is living in Bellevue.
Nikolay Nikitenko says the charges are bogus and nothing more than a 16-year effort by corrupt Russian officials to extort money from of him -- money he says he never had.
Except for the local Russian community, Americans don't know him. When KOMO 4 went to his Bellevue office to ask him about Interpol listing him as wanted for "fraud" and "abuse of authority," he said in his thick Russian accent and broken English "sit down, please."
The 74-year-old proceeded to tell his strange story for more than an hour, off camera, with the promise of an on camera interview later.
But first, his background: Nikitenko is well known in Mother Russia, especially Vladivostok, where headlines have blared "How to lose millions of dollars" and "The case is opened but the suspect is far away."
According to the Russian press as recently as two years ago, Nikitenko was embroiled in a billion-dollar business scandal as big as Enron or Wamu. At least 11,000 jobs were lost.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, entire industries went into private hands, often chaotically. Nikitenko says he became CEO of the 105-ship Russian fishing fleet based in Vladivostok. But as the company sailed toward bankruptcy, vessels were sold off to foreigners at deep discounts, Russian press reports said, asking the whereabouts of many millions of dollars.
Russian prosecutor Valeriy Vasilenko was quoted in 2007 in Vlad News -- that city's main news outlet -- accusing Nikitenko of selling several of those ships "with intent to gain profit and benefits for himself, his son and others"
Other press reports and Nikitenko himself say prosecutors were also criminally investigating his son Oleg in a financing deal related to the ships. Oleg had already left Russia, in 1992. Nikolay joined him in the U.S. in 1998.
Now, 16 years later, in a quiet Bellevue office park, the father and son run Global Seafoods North America, selling caviar, salmon roe, and all sorts of fish. Much of it is based at their processing plant in Kodiak, Alaska, where Facebook photos show a bustling business.
Life appears prosperous in America for the family. Oleg's ex-wife said in divorce papers they "lived the life of Russian royalty in Bellevue." And yet, the family faces the Interpol arrest warrant. It requires U.S. authorities to take action which has not happened. The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia.
Then there is Nikitenko's side of the story. Off camera in his office, his eyes welled with tears, his arms waving, his voice rising. He said he sometimes feels so frustrated that he might just shoot himself. Dogged for 16 years, he says, by corrupt Russian officials seeking payoffs and those who wrongly believe he stole millions from the Russian fishing fleet debacle.
Nikitenko agreed to an on-camera interview to talk about the open letter he wrote to Russian authorities posted widely: naming his extortioners, and secretly recording intermediaries demanding payments in exchange for dropping the charges. He says in his open letter he reluctantly paid a $750,000 bribe in exchange for dropping the charges against him. He later recanted, but Nikitenko does confirm he had to pay $200,000 to Russian bureaucrats for three documents he showed us proclaiming his innocence.
It's the way it works in Russia, he told us off camera. When KOMO 4 came back for that scheduled interview, no one showed up. We may never know what happened in Vladivostok during the collapse of the fishing fleet.
That Interpol arrest warrant hangs over Nikolay Nikitenko to this day.