Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) called on the Guatemalan government to release a Russian family who fled to South America to escape political persecution at the hands of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin Thursday.
Irina and Igor Bitkov, along with their daughter fled to Guatemala in 2009 after two Russian banks, including one owned mostly by the federation government, attempted to take control of a paper mill company they owned and after their daughter was allegedly kidnapped and raped in St. Petersburg.
The banks pushed the Guatemalan government to prosecute the family in 2014, and the Bitkovs were charged for allegedly obtaining fraudulent passports.
“It’s shocking,” Smith said. “For escaping Russia and using fake travel documents to survive, Igor was sentenced to 19 years in prison and has already been incarcerated for three and a half years. Irina and Anastasia were both sentenced to 14 years each and have already served one and a half years in prison — another grossly unfair and unjust sentence that was affirmed by a Guatemalan appellate court last July.”
Irina Bitkov, who is currently remanded to her home under house arrest, testified before a hearing of the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Commission Wednesday, urging outside powers to intercede.
“We came to Guatemala in hope of survival, but the Kremlin caught up with us and used its influence to encourage Guatemalan prosecutors, judges and even magistrates to fabricate a case against me and my family,” she said. “Not only did they imprison and tortures us, they put our 3-year-old son Vladimir in an orphanage.”
The family’s arrest has drawn scrutiny to the United Nations International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a multi-national effort aimed at stemming corruption in the South American Country.
Smith and others have said the Russian banks worked with the CICIG to arrest the family.
“The Bitkovs should have gotten political asylum in Guatemala, not unjustly jailed,” Smith said. “Free the Bitkovs now and investigate corrupt officials at the now defunct CICIG.”