According to index.hu, the owner of the Russian restaurant chain that was doing well a few years ago has been waiting for two and a half years to get a political asylum in Hungary. Despite the fact that he’s been attested in two EU countries, EU laws threw him to a place he’s not connected to. His story doesn’t only demonstrate the everyday defenselessness of an entrepreneur in the illiberal Russia, but also gives an insight into the hopeless labyrinths of the European and Hungarian bureaucracy, which is quite worrying.
When the Soviet Union fell apart and opportunities opened up, the pedagogue started an enterprise in Volgograd. He first traded, then opened restaurants and lined his pockets. In 2006, the mafia coalesced with politics, the federal secret service and the police started blackmailing him. He paid one million dollars but he was ripped off and they started a criminal procedure against him. So he escaped to Prague, but the Russian secret service snatched him. Due to the warrant of caption, he served time in Czechia and Austria for one and a half years. Finally, Prague delivered him up to Moscow.
In 2013, he escaped to Hungary from Ukraine through the green border. But will the Hungary getting closer and closer to Putin’s Russia give him the asylum? “I’ll do something with myself but I’m not going back there!” said the desperate sentence Aleksey Torubarov in a countryside restaurant, where he met with Index’s reporter. This wasn’t the first, neither the last time he said this sentence. He had plenty of time in the past six years to think through his life in Austrian, Czech, Russian prisons, while creeping on the Ukrainian border or while waiting in Hungary. At least he is free here, if we can call seeing your family occasionally freedom, because he can’t leave the country. Though Hungary was never his aim, he was only driven here by his misfortune and bureaucracy.
The 58-year-old Aleksey Torubarov is the classic example of enrichment in the perestroika, if we don’t count people who obtained oil wells, who had a good relationship with the all-time power or started the accumulation of capital in organized crime and then either died or became powerful.
“The taste of freedom felt so good; you could earn money at once. I was enthusiastic, founded a company and started trading with the Chinese.” In Russian conditions it wasn’t surprising that Torubarov delivered a 40 ton BelAZ truck with huge wheels there and got two carriages of clothes in change. “I sold the clothes and became a rich man in one day.”
This is how he founded Bar Texas in 1998 in Volgograd. Torubarov renovated a neglected building, which he rented. Then he opened more and more in the following years and the real bustling started after 2000. There came Bar Bocka, Japona Papa and the other places.
“Russians only go to restaurants at the occasion of celebrations, holidays. Regular guests are only officials and chief policemen. They sometimes asked me smaller favours, like regaling a delegation, but that was all. I’ve never paid a slush-fund. If a policeman tried to bribe me, I bowed him out. At the time I ran ten restaurants from Latin American to Indian. The city seemed to be my friend.” Torubarov didn’t know that the reason why he wasn’t bothered was a misunderstanding.
He only realized the misunderstanding, when there was a procedure against the city mayor in 2006. Evgeniy Ischenko was passed a sentence upon despite his powerful relatives, and his case tampered with the balance of power, thus also the illegal income of business interests. Everybody was scanned in the name of re-channeling, not in the name of the fight against corruption.
“Until then, everybody thought that I was protected by someone, so no one bothered me. But then they found out in 2007 that I wasn’t paying for anyone.” The autonomy started selling its real estates in 2007. One of his restaurants’ contacts expired then, and he found out that the place was going to be rouped as a simple cellar. He knew that he could win but heard a dope that someone would arrange that he would be the only entrant at the auction if he paid 3-5 million rubles (24-40 million forints in 2008). Torubarov rejected this offer. Then the vice-mayor looked him up with the news that the Federal Security Service (FSS) would bore down on the blackmailers, but they would need his cooperation. The promise was that he could buy the rental in change.
“Then an official from the Federal Security Service messaged that I should give them 1 million dollars so they would buy the place and later rewrite it on my name.” So Torubarov took on credit, collected the money and gave it to the official. And then happened what every sensible person thinks that happened: the official disappeared with the money. After this, Torubarov started investigating and looking for evidence himself.
Index.hu writes that, one time, the official called him and told him that he couldn’t give back the place, only the money. “We met on the shore of the Volga like in movies, the two cars stopped side by side and Andrey Chumanov, the official threw an envelope at me saying that it was only one million rubles and that he would give back the 24 rest later. As I got the envelope, the commando attacked my car, they hoicked me out of the car and didn’t stop until Rostov-on-Don.”
Then, it turned out at the operative criminal department that Torubarov was accused of blackmailing the official of the FSS. The case was closed in 2009 without impeachment. Torubarov was in Prague when he found out that there was a warrant of caption started against him in Russia. His lawyer advised him to stay abroad for two months as the warrant wasn’t international.
In 2011, he unsuspectingly traveled by bus to one of his friends in Italy. “A few policemen got on the bus is Austria, I thought that maybe it was because of the immigrants. As I showed them my passport, they held a gun to my head, twisted my arms and told me that I was wanted by Interpol.” They took him to Wiener Neustadt, where he spent four months in custody.
Apart from the compulsive wait, things were going tolerably until a prisoner once attacked him. After the incident he decided to turn to Austria with a request for political asylum but they declined the request. Torubarov left the Wiener Neustadt prison after four months and waited for the decision of the Austrian authorities for six months. He went to Brno to ask for asylum but he was put into custody again. This time for 14 months.
On the 2nd of May, 2013 he was delivered to be handed over to Russia. He was welcomed by policemen who instantly pressed him into a paddy wagon, more exactly, into a tin can inside the wagon. A few days later he was delivered to Volgograd with a police train. He spent two months in custody there. “I was actually in everybody’s way. My business was robbed and I would have only caused trouble if I was there.” Torubarov contacted all types of authorities but everyone told him to piss off, because he wouldn’t get back his business.
“My story is not unique; about 150 thousand Russian entrepreneurs are in the same shoes as me. Just think about it, every sixth entrepreneur was/is in prison or has a criminal procedure going on in Russia.”
He didn’t have a passport, but he could get to Ukraine with his identity card in the December of 2013. From there he escaped to Hungary two months later. So Hungary became authorized in his case since this was where he stepped into the EU. “They treated me well as they have seen the many articles about my case.”
Torubarov was taken to Nyírbátor, where he waited two months for the decision in connection with his political asylum. The Office of Immigration and Nationality (OIN) declined his request and reasoned that his party, which he was formerly part of, wasn’t really pursued in his homeland.
According to Tamás Fazekas, Torubarov’s legal representative, this case is a perfect example of an unequivocally valid political asylum request; however they couldn’t claim his due yet. He thinks that current Hungarian-Russian relations might have played an important role in OIN’s decision, as the admission of a request like this, which could mean a loss of face for Russia, would be quite sensitive politically.
The inconvenience of the case is also signaled by Prague’s attitude. Hungarian authorities formerly offered the decision to the Czech, but they didn’t take on the problem. Torubarov charged at OIN’s second decline, but they withdrew their decision before taking it to court and admitted that they weren’t prudential enough. So it’s still OIN’s turn. They are only taking the matter to court of it gets declined again. But there’s no date yet.
According to the immigration law that changed during the immigrant wave the court can only oblige OIN for a new decision-making, since last September. So the only thing Torubarov can do is wait. “I don’t want anything else, just to start a normal life. We are slowly living up all of our backups and it’s time for me to do my things again. I don’t ask for financial support, just a place where I can live. A place where I get sheltered. But I’m not going back to Russia against my will, alive!”
Copy editor: bm