18 January 1992
"The New York Times" publishes interview with Dmitry Afanasiev


F.B.I. and Russian Agency Thwart a Kidnapping

By MICHAEL WINES, Special to The New York Times

As if elements of the novel "Gorky Park" had sprung to life, the F.B.I. and Russian security police teamed this week to crack a $1.6 million kidnapping-and-ransom scheme that threatened the lives of two foreigners in Moscow.

The kidnapping ended Thursday morning, when agents of the newly formed Russian Agency for Federal Security, one of the successors of the K.G.B., which has been abolished, swooped down on a hotel on a busy highway outside Moscow and freed Daniel Weinstock, an Australian computer-company executive who had been taken hostage on Jan. 8.

Mr. Weinstock's wife, Ivonne, had been freed by the police the day before at a country house outside the Russian capital.

The couple were released, and 10 Russians arrested and charged with extortion, after the kidnappers telephoned American relatives of the Weinstocks demanding money in exchange for their freedom. The relatives, in Philadelphia and Newark, worked with the F.B.I., Australian diplomats and a Philadelphia law firm with extensive Russian connections to track down the Weinstocks and their captors.

The Russians charged in the case are said to have been disgruntled partners in a Siberian electronics venture with Mr. Weinstock, whose primary Russian venture is a firm named Sovaustral Technika J. V. It is not known whether the kidnappers claimed they acted to recover a debt or losses from the Siberian venture, or whether they were acting out of revenge or some other motive.

The F.B.I. was said to have entered the case only reluctantly, and with but a single agent who worked from the bureau's Newark field office. But participants in the inquiry said that that agent applied proven American tradecraft to a crime that is relatively rare in Russia, stringing the kidnappers along, stalling for time and even tricking them at one point into leaving their Moscow telephone number with a fake American "answering service."

In a written statement today, the F.B.I. credited the Agency for Federal Security with "unprecedented cooperation" in the case. The agency was created by President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia from remnants of the former K.G.B., the once-feared Soviet espionage and internal-security agency.

The bureau also gave credit to a young Russian lawyer, Dimitri O. Afanasiev, who became enmeshed in the case while working at the Philadelphia law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen. Mr. Afanasiev used his language skills and Russian political contacts to speed negotiations with the hostage-takers and to keep the Russian police on their trail.

"Had it not been for Dimitri, this whole episode would have been delayed a lot longer than it was," said Jerome J. Shestack, a partner in the firm. "He literally worked all night for several nights on this."

Australian Embassy officials in Moscow said tonight that the Weinstocks were safe. Mr. Shestack and others said they had been beaten and abused during their eight-day ordeal, but those accounts could not be confirmed.

$1.6 Million Ransom

As related by Mr. Shestack and Mr. Afanasiev, the F.B.I. and the Russian police were forced into a tense cat-and-mouse game with the kidnappers before a trail of documents and traced telephone calls finally led them to the Weinstocks.

The Australian couple were in Moscow tending to business matters when they were abducted on Jan. 8. That day, the F.B.I. said, an Australian-born relative of Mr. Weinstock, Dr. Israel Rayman of Wayne, N.J., received a telephone call from Mr. Weinstock, who told him that he had been taken hostage and that his captors were demanding $1.6 million in hard currency for his release.

That same day, the kidnappers called an unidentified Philadelphia relative of Mr. Weinstock with similar demands. That relative summoned Mr. Shestack, whose law firm is well known as an adviser to American businesses in Russia. Mr. Shestack said he then called in the F.B.I. and asked his protege, Mr. Afanasiev, to seek help from the Russian Government.

"It was frankly quite a problem, because it's such a mess over there right now that you don't know who to talk to," Mr. Afanasiev, a former assistant district attorney in Moscow, said in an interview today. "The K.G.B. was abolished after Yeltsin took over."

Conduit to F.B.I.

Mr. Afanasiev called old associates of Mr. Shestack in the Russian Foreign Ministry, and they ordered the new Federal Security agency onto the case. The Russian agents then called the American Embassy in Moscow, where surprised security officers, unaccustomed to chatting even with former K.G.B. officers, set up a conduit to the F.B.I. back in the United States.

In Washington, a State Department official who insisted on not being identified, said today that the cooperation between the American and Russian security forces was apparently unique in the annals of modern Moscow-Washington relations.

"The K.G.B. just contacted our embassy," he said. "Nobody knows of any case like this. We think it worked very well. It's just the kind of thing that can happen these days."

From then forward, talks with the hostage-takers were routed through the home telephones of Dr. Rayman. Acting at the F.B.I.'s behest, the doctor told the kidnappers on Jan. 9, a Thursday, that he needed time to assemble the ransom and that they had to open a bank account to which the cash could be wired.

'Let Us Call You'

"They told the kidnappers, 'All right, let us call you back on Monday, and the Russians left their phone number," Mr. Afanasiev said today. Strange as that might seem to Americans, he said, the kidnappers were confident that the Russian police were so inefficient "that by the time the number was turned over to the police, the whole thing would be over."

In fact, the phone number was given to the Agency for Federal Security, which traced it to a Moscow building. But when Dr. Rayman called Moscow that Monday for further instructions, the kidnappers had moved.

They called Dr. Rayman later that day from their new location. But this time, on the advice of the F.B.I., he pretended to be away, and a bogus answering service requested a number to which he could return the call. Again, the kidnappers complied, and the latest number was turned over to the Russian security agency.

Security officers sped to the new hideout, but found that the kidnappers had once more fled, after promising to call Dr. Rayman again on Wednesday.

House Outside Moscow

On that day, the Russians and the Americans were prepared to act. Mr. Shestack's firm, suspecting a sour business deal was at the root of the kidnapping, had researched Mr. Weinstock's business dealings in Russia. The findings, which pointed to a business dispute in Siberia, had been forwarded to the Russian police, who pinpointed a house outside Moscow as the likely hideout for the scheme.

As Russian police swept down on the house, the F.B.I. was relaying instructions and advice to its Russian counterparts through the American Embassy in Moscow. At the same time, Mr. Afanasiev was talking directly to the deputy chief of the Federal Security agency, receiving reports on their efforts.

The police found Mrs. Weinstock and five Russian captors in the house, the F.B.I. said today. Minutes earlier, five other Russians had taken Mr. Weinstock into town to call Dr. Rayman, but became convinced that they were being followed and fled out of the city.

The five men and their captive holed up in a hotel, where they called Siberia, apparently seeking documents from their business venture that would somehow justify their demand for the $1.6 million ransom. How the Russian security agents found the kidnappers has not been disclosed. But Mr. Afanasiev said today that he believed they relied on a shopworn K.G.B. tactic -- telephone tapping -- to trace calls from Siberia to the hotel.