Igor and Irina Bitkov have learned to their everlasting sorrow that ruthless people in Russia will stop at nothing — including kidnapping and assaulting a child — to steal a successful business.
The Bitkovs built the pulp and paper-making operation North West Timber Company (NWTC) from scratch, with their business spanning from Saint Petersburg to Kaliningrad to Novodvinsk, where Igor’s father worked at a mill during Soviet times.
Igor told a journalist that he developed clean technology for his operation because industrial pollution had killed too many people in the area.
As NWTC prospered, the Bitkovs borrowed money for expansion from three government-owned banks — Sberbank, Gazprombank and VTB. Borrowing from a state-owned bank can bring your operation to the attention of ruthless government officials on the lookout for ways to use their official positions to become rich.
A Sberbank executive told Igor he wanted to buy 51 percent of NWTC, but Igor said no.
In June 2007, the Bitkovs got the payback for refusing — and it was truly despicable.
Thugs kidnapped, drugged and repeatedly raped their 16-year-old daughter Anastasia over three days. Igor paid $200,000 for her return, but Anastasia’s psyche had been scarred forever.
In the face of more threats, the Bitkovs fled Russia in April 2008. The three banks immediately called in the loans and gobbled up NWTC.
The Bitkovs’ first overseas stop was Turkey, where Igor received a message from Russia’s security service, the FSB, demanding that he return home, where he knew he would face trumped-up criminal charges. The Bitkovs then established a secret life in Guatemala.
By 2013, Russians officials had tracked them down, however, and were demanding that Guatemala extradite them. Guatemala responded by convicting the Bitkovs of buying false passports and confining them.
Some good news came in 2018, when U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, took up the family’s human-rights case. The Bitkovs are still in Guatemala, under house arrest.
Meanwhile, because of their case, more and more of the world is learning how truly evil the Russian practice of seizing a business without compensating its owners can be.
Raid Media and Political Coverage
December 28, 2018
Washington Free Beacon
December 28, 2018
Wall Street Journal
May 9, 2018
April 27, 2018
April 25, 2018
July 12, 2017
May 30, 2016
New York Times
Official Bitkov Family Websites