‘Pro­tect us from the Rus­sians’

The West Australian - - NEWS - Tim Clarke Le­gal Af­fairs Ed­i­tor

A fa­ther who fears for his life af­ter blow­ing the whis­tle on al­leged cor­rup­tion by one of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s clos­est al­lies has made a des­per­ate fi­nal plea to the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to grant his fam­ily haven in Aus­tralia.

Nick Stride was once among the most trusted con­trac­tors of Igor Shu­valov, one of the rich­est and most pow­er­ful men in Rus­sia.

In 2006 Mr Stride, a Bri­tish glaz­ing ex­pert, was hired to work on a palace be­ing built near Moscow by the First Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, who headed the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee of Rus­sia’s suc­cess­ful bid to host this year’s soc­cer World Cup.

But af­ter years of wit­ness­ing Mr Shu­valov’s im­port tax deal­ings, Mr Stride says he, his Rus­sian wife Lud­mila Ko­val­eva and their chil­dren were threat­ened with “se­vere con­se­quences” if they tried to leave the coun­try — be­cause of what he knew.

Af­ter flee­ing to Bri­tain in 2010, Mr Stride and his wife be­lieved they were still “within Rus­sian reach” so came to Aus­tralia and claimed po­lit­i­cal asy­lum.

De­spite a Refugee Re­view Tri­bunal as­ses­sor find­ing “that it is ap­par­ent that the dan­ger they fear (is) ac­cepted as real”, the fam­ily’s asy­lum plea was re­jected in 2012.

Six years on, af­ter suc­ces­sive im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ters re­fused to in­ter­vene, the fam­ily re­main on the verge of de­por­ta­tion — with Mr Stride and his chil­dren likely to be de­ported to Bri­tain, and his wife to Rus­sia.

The ini­tial dan­ger they felt re­mains, af­ter Mr Stride supplied damn­ing doc­u­ments to an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist in 2014 which showed the cir­cuitous route of Mr Shu­valov’s money.

“For the past seven years, my fam­ily has fought to stay in Aus­tralia,” Mr Stride said. “This has al­ways been about the safety of my fam­ily and my chil­dren.

“But we are run­ning out of op­tions, be­cause if they do send (my wife) back to Rus­sia ... we will never see her again, and she is go­ing to face reper­cus­sions, there is no doubt. I helped put on­line all his off­shore bank ac­counts, his ac­count numbers — and they are pa­tient peo­ple.”

A lawyer-turned-politi­cian, Mr Shu­valov, 51, ranks only be­hind Mr Putin and Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev in the Rus­sian power hi­er­ar­chy.

The sprawl­ing Win­ter­gar­den es­tate which Mr Stride helped re­fur­bish is es­ti­mated to be worth $180 mil­lion. Mr Shu­valov uses a $70 mil­lion pri­vate jet to trans­port his wife’s cor­gis to dog shows across Europe, ac­cord­ing to a Krem­lin critic.

Mr Stride is liv­ing in the South West on a six-month bridg­ing visa. His wife had a men­tal break­down be­cause of the stress of their sit­u­a­tion. He said strict Bri­tish en­try con­di­tions — and the diplo­matic hos­til­ity af­ter the poi­son­ing of dou­ble agent Sergei Skri­pal — meant Bri­tain was a “dif­fi­cult, dan­ger­ous and al­most im­pos­si­ble place to go” for his wife. Ms Ko­val­eva could be back in Rus­sia by Au­gust.

The De­part­ment of Home Af­fairs said the case “has been com­pre­hen­sively as­sessed by the de­part­ment, the Refugee Re­view Tri­bunal and sev­eral min­is­ters over many years”.

“They have been liv­ing in the community un­law­fully with­out a valid visa since 2014 and are ex­pected to leave Aus­tralia,” the de­part­ment said.

Pic­ture: Iain Gille­spie

Bri­tish na­tional Nick Stride fears for the safety of his fam­ily. In­set: Vladimir Putin and Igor Shu­valov.

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