Exiled telecoms tycoon Yevgeny Chichvarkin ramped up the intrigue this week as he claimed that his former business partner, Boris Levin, could be the next to die in jail from inadequate medical attention.
In an Alexei Dymovsky-style video appeal posted on his blog on the Snob website, Chichvarkin piled the pressure on President Dmitry Medvedev, urging him to intervene in Levin's case.
Chichvarkin also accused a raft of officials of harassing his company and plotting a hostile takeover of Yevroset, the mobile firm he founded. Although the fate of Dymovsky's YouTube appeal does not bode well for Chichvarkin, he may have timed it to perfection.
A suited Chichvarkin appeared stern in the video against the sombre backdrop of London's Houses of Parliament and the River Thames.
Chichvarkin, who fled to the British capital in late 2008, urged Medvedev to look into his case, reiterating claims that Yevroset, along with six other companies, had been targeted in corporate raids by a gang of 11 officials operating out of the Interior Ministry's Department K.
After accusing generals Konstantin Machabel and Boris Miroshnikov of leading the "gang", Chichvarkin accused members of the department of stealing confiscated state property amounting to billions of dollars, as well as inducing the deaths of people close to him.
Chichvarkin is wanted in Russia over the 2003 abduction of Andrei Vlaskin, Yevroset's freight transport agent, and violently extorting money from him after he had stolen handsets from the company. Moscow filed an extradition request for Chichvarkin last June, but British prosecutors have delayed a decision until August.
Levin, Yevroset's vice president, is currently being detained for the abduction of Vlaskin, but both Chichvarkin and Levin deny the allegations and say the case against them is "fabricated".
Chichvarkin claims that Levin, who has contracted hepatitis while in pre-trial detention, is being denied necessary medical attention, effectively holding him "hostage".
Chichvarkin claimed that Levin would suffer the same fate as Hermitage lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail last November, unless he is administered the right treatment. Prison deaths leapt back into the public eye last week when businesswoman Vera Trifonova died because her kidney condition and general poor health were allegedly deliberately ignored to coerce her into false testimony.
The appeal does seem to have got the ball rolling, if only with Levin's case. The Prosecutor General's Office confirmed it was investigating media statements "about the poor health of ...Levin," RIA Novosti reported.
Marat Faizullin, Levin's lawyer, confirmed to Kommersant that his client needed medical attention.
But Yuri Gervis, Chichvarkin's laywer, said he still doubts that any progress will be made. "It's a question of what's going to be checked out and what conclusions they arrive at. That is to say it's a question of whether they do an all-encompassing investigation, or whether it's just a formal one."
According to Chichvarkin, his case is at the nexus of a host of prominent scandals. Writing in Novaya Gazeta in March, Chichvarkin claimed that the reason that police superintendent Denis Yevsyukov went on his shooting rampage in a Moscow supermarket last year was connected to his own case.
Just before his drunken killing spree, Yevsyukov, so goes the version, received a phone call informing him he was being investigated for corruption against Chichvarkin.
Apparently this was the last straw.
Chichvarkin made no mention of this in this week's video, noted Alexei Mukhin, head of the Centre for Political Information, but agreed it was timed to follow the death of Trifonova. "After the death of Magnitsky and Trifonova, a third death would be a fateful blow to the president's credentials as a liberal," said Mukhin.
Recently two exiled businessmen, Mikhail Gutseriyev and Telman Ismailov, have returned to Russia, but both on Putin's orders.
Rehabilitating Chichvarkin would help Medvedev to salvage his liberal reputation, which has been undermined by the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case. But doing so is far from easy because Chichvarkin has become even more "persona non grata" after he named the various officials implicated in hostile takeovers, meaning that Medvedev would have to personally take him under his wing, said Mukhin.
"The moment of truth has arrived for Medvedev. If he really does want to [stand] in 2012, then he has to take up Chichvarkin's offer. This will be a very elucidating step for the whole country: it will reveal Medvedev's political orientation."