MOSCOW, Jan. 25 (JTA) — Russian police have arrested a prominent Jewish leader in St. Petersburg and may charge him with kidnapping two people, according to the city’s chief prosecutor.
Mikhail Mirilashvili, 40, is one of the city’s most influential business magnates and head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Jewish Congress.
Observers believe Wednesday’s arrest of Mirilashvili was not motivated by anti-Semitism, but that it might frighten wealthy businessmen who are the main supporters of the RJC, thereby harming one of Russia’s largest Jewish communal organizations.
Mirilashvili, who lived in Tbilisi, Georgia, before moving to St. Petersburg, is one of the wealthiest people in the city and owns casinos, hotels and shops, including St. Petersburg largest’s department store.
It is unclear whether the arrest of Mirilashvili is connected to an ongoing Kremlin campaign to prosecute media tycoon and Russian Jewish Congress leader Vladimir Goussinsky on embezzlement and fraud charges.
Mirilashvili, who holds both Russian and Israel citizenship, heads the board of directors of the Russian Video company. That company is part of Goussinsky’s media empire.
Goussinsky is currently under arrest in Spain, and a Spanish high court is slated to decide whether to extradite him to Russia to face charges.
St. Petersburg prosecutor Ivan Sydoruk told a news conference this week that the case against Mirilashvili was not linked to the charges against Goussinsky.
“At issue here is kidnapping. There cannot and must not be any other undertones,” Sydoruk said.
The central offices of Goussinsky’s media empire were searched on Thursday.
In addition, the offices of the Maccabi Jewish sports group, which shares offices with Mirilashvili, were searched Wednesday night, but “the police looked only for video cassettes and financial documents and were quite polite,” said Vadim Polyansky, head of the local Maccabi branch.
A Moscow Jewish businessman who has long known Mirilashvili suggested that he might be responsible for the recent killing of three Georgian gangsters in a St. Petersburg hotel.
“He simply settled accounts with them for last year’s abduction of his father, who is also in his business,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to Russian law, Mirilashvili may be held for 10 days before charges are filed against him.