‘Protect us from the Russians’
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.
British national Nick Stride fears for the safety of his family. Inset: Vladimir Putin and Igor Shuvalov.