U.S. investor Calvey rejects Russian claim he pleaded guilty to embezzlement charge

U.S. investor and founder of the Baring Vostok private equity group Michael Calvey attends a court hearing in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) -U.S. investor Michael Calvey on Thursday said he had never pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges in Russia and never would, after a Russian cassation court said he had acknowledged his guilt in a 2.5-billion-rouble ($27.7 million) case.

Calvey, the founder of Russia-focused private equity group Baring Vostok, was detained along with other executives in early 2019 on charges of embezzlement linked to mid-sized lender Vostochny.

A Russian court of cassation on Thursday said Calvey had pleaded guilty to the charges after years of maintaining his innocence and that it had commuted his sentence by two months as a result.

Calvey, in a statement shared with Reuters via a representative, said his lawyers had filed an appeal for a reduced punishment and had not pleaded guilty.

"The court partially satisfied the appeal and reduced my punishment and probation period," Calvey said. "I consider this decision justified and fair.

"As far as my plea is concerned, I have never, either in writing or verbally, pleaded guilty and never will."

Calvey said he did not participate in Thursday's court hearing.

A court representative, reached by Reuters by phone, said the court had noted Calvey's response, but had no further information at this time.

"The judicial board for criminal cases of the Second General Court of Cassation, taking into account additionally established mitigating circumstances, full recognition of guilt and remorse for the offence, reduced Calvey's punishment in the form of imprisonment by two months - to four years and four months suspended," the court's press service said.

In 2021, Calvey was given a 5-1/2 year suspended sentence, which was commuted to 4-1/2 years in 2023.

Calvey and his colleagues were initially placed in pre-trial detention and then under house arrest, although those restrictions were eased in November 2020, before the defendants were found guilty and sentenced in August 2021.

Restrictive measures were further eased in 2022, allowing Calvey to leave Russia. His lawyer told Reuters in March 2023 that he was waiting for a visa and intended to fight the case.

($1 = 90.2425 roubles)

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)