By Caribbean News Now contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts -- The founder and ousted CEO of top Russian social networking site VKontakte has reportedly fled Russia amid a conflict with security services over data protection and privacy shortly after becoming a citizen of St Kitts and Nevis through its citizenship-by-investment program.
Pavel Durov, who was fired from his position as CEO of Vkontakte last week, received a St Kitts and Nevis passport by contributing $250,000 to the Caribbean nation’s sugar industry in February, an unidentified source close to the company’s shareholders said.
Durov, who reportedly resisted months of increasing pressure from the Federal Security Service to release personal information about opposition activists who use Vkontake, said that he learned about his dismissal from media reports last week.
He also said on his Vkontakte page that the social network will now fall under the “full control” of Kremlin-linked Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, and Vkontakte billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov.
After he was fired as Vkontakte CEO, Durov apparently traveled from Russia to the United Arab Emirates, where he holds a long-term residence visa, an unidentified source said.
Durov’s brother, Nikolai, who worked as a technical director at Vkontakte, is also seeking St Kitts and Nevis citizenship through the investment program, the source added.
St Kitts and Nevis citizenship may be obtained by investing $400,000 in the country or by making a “non-refundable contribution” of $250,000 to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation, according to the island’s citizenship-by-investment program website.
The sale of St Kitts and Nevis passports under its citizenship by investment program has come under increased scrutiny over the last 18 months. In July last year, an Iranian turned up at the Canadian border with a St Kitts and Nevis diplomatic passport, which he claimed was purchased for US$1million, a claim the St Kitts and Nevis government has not responded to.
More recently, three Iranian businessmen with St Kitts and Nevis passports were named by the US Treasury Department as evading sanctions against Iran. Opposition politicians have claimed the news of these investigations threaten the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment program, an argument that Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas has dismissed.
A number of other questionable characters have also been reported as having purchased St Kitts and Nevis passports, including another Russian, Rustem Tursunbayev, who is wanted for embezzlement in Kazakhstan. Dr Arthur Porter, also a holder of a St Kitts and Nevis diplomatic passport, is wanted in Canada on a $22 million embezzlement charge. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the second vice president of Equatorial Guinea, is wanted in France on multimillion-dollar money-laundering charges; and Charles Edward Krasny Ergen, another SKN passport holder, allegedly faces a child abduction charge in the Philippines.
Senator Richard “Ricky” Skerritt
Meanwhile, on Monday, the federation’s minister of minister of international trade and industry; tourism, international transport, commerce and consumer affairs, Senator Richard “Ricky” Skerritt told participants attending a citizenship by investment and international residence forum in Dubai that the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment program was designed both to advance the social and economic interests of the people of the twin-island federation and to provide a citizenship option for desirable non-nationals.
He stated that the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment program compares favourably with all similar programmes around the world.
In 2012, Range Developments, the developers of the Park Hyatt St Kitts, employed Skerritt’s wife Ellena as its “Business Development Director”. Her employment lasted one year according to publicly available information but a representative of Range’s public relations firm stated just last month that she is still employed by the company.
Range Developments is currently advertising extensively online, promoting the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment programme through investment in its Park Hyatt St Kitts project.