East-West Effort Foils Russian Kidnappers
William W. Horne
When Russian lawyer Dimitry Afanasiev, 23, came to the U.S. in 1990 to earn a master's of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he never dreamed that two years later he would be working with the FBI and Russia's Agency of Federal Security to spring a couple from the clutches of Russian extortionists.
But that's just what happened when an Australian businessman and his wife were kidnapped near Moscow on January 8. The kidnappers demanded a ransom from the hostages' relatives in New Jersey, who tapped their lawyer in Philadelphia, Jerome Shestack, the partner in charge of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen's four-lawyer Soviet practice group. Shestack promptly contacted the FBI and called in Afanasiev, now a corporate associate in his group.
An official whom Afanasiev knew in the Russian foreign ministry paved the way for a joint investigation by Russian and U.S. agencies. "We had to find the right person at the right agency or else nothing would have happened," he explains.
Afanasiev, who briefly served as an assistant prosecutor in Leningrad, says he worked day and night for the next week, occasionally acting as interpreter and relying on his knowledge of Russian criminal procedure law to help move police efforts along. "We had conference calls three nights in a row with the Russians on one side, the FBI on the other, and me in the middle," he says.
Russian police captured the alleged kidnappers on January 16, and freed the Australians. Afanasiev has turned his attention back to East-West joint ventures, but the kidnap caper was "more entertaining than a dry business transaction," he says.