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VKontakte Founder Flees Russia Claiming Persecution

Published: April 24, 2014 (Issue # 1807)



  • Pavel Durov, the founder and former CEO of the VKontakte social network.
    Photo: Durov / VK.com

Pavel Durov, the founder of Russias largest social networking website, fled the country on Tuesday, a day after he said he was forced out as the companys CEO for refusing to share users personal data with Russian law enforcement agencies.

Durov, who created VKontakte seven years ago, first announced his intention to leave the company on April 1 but withdrew his resignation letter two days later. On Monday, he announced that he had been fired and that the social network would now fall under full control of Kremlin-linked Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and VKontakte billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov.

The move to oust Durov is widely seen as part of a wider campaign by the Kremlin to tighten its grip on the Internet, and observers said the authorities aimed to cleanse the management of Russian Internet companies in the hopes of gaining control of their content.

Last week, Durov said in an interview with the New Times that the Federal Security Service had turned up the pressure on VKontakte employees dramatically in recent months, demanding that Durov release personal information about Euromaidan activists. He said the Prosecutor General's Office ordered him to shut down a group on the website dedicated to anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, though he refused to do so.

I am out of Russia and have no plans to go back, Durov said Tuesday in an interview with Techcrunch, a news website focused on technology. He said he intended to launch a mobile social network outside Russia.

Unfortunately, the country is incompatible with Internet business at the moment, he said, adding that Russian authorities had targeted him after he publicly refused to cooperate with them.

United Capital Partners, a private company registered in Moscow that owns 48 percent of VKontakte, disputed Durov's statements on Tuesday, saying he had been seeking to politicize the situation because there were serious legal claims against him and he was suspected of embezzlement.

The company's statement also said his resignation was not an accomplished fact and that the decision had yet to be discussed by the board of directors. The company's executive director, however, said the decision was final.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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