Khoroshevsky District Court in Moscow has arrested in absentia Andrey Panov, a former deputy general director of Aeroflot for strategy and marketing, who left Russia in early March, local media reported citing court filings. He has called his persecution politically motivated and related to his statements about Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine.

He has been charged under Part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code, which covers fraud committed by an organised group or on a large scale, the maximum penalty for which is ten years in prison. The accusation is ostensibly related to a contract to develop the flag carrier’s marketing strategy, which it signed with Boston-based consultants Bain & Company in 2019 for RUB200 million rubles (USD3.2 million), a source told RBK TV.

Panov, who was previously a partner at Bain & Company in Moscow, participated in creating the strategy for Aeroflot Group, which also includes Pobeda and Rossiya. The strategy was approved in 2020 and envisaged an increase in the group’s passenger traffic from 60.7 million to 130 million passengers by 2028.

Panov fled the country shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequently spoke out against the war in an opinion piece in the Financial Times. In that column, he encouraged fellow senior executives and top managers of Russian companies to sabotage deals and contracts that support the military aggression simply by postponing or ignoring them. He said: “I’m not calling for you to become martyrs or political prisoners. But you can retire, you can just leave, and even if neither is possible, you can still do something.”

The case against him is being handled by the transport department at Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the news agency Interfax was told in court that he had been “put on the international wanted list.” Officers from the Federal Security Service (FSB) searched Aeroflot’s offices in Moscow in April, presumably looking for evidence against him.

Panov himself has drawn attention to the fact that the accusations appeared three years after the group’s board of directors approved the marketing strategy.

“Obviously, the accusations against me are politically motivated. The criminal case was opened the day after my statement to the Financial Times. At the same time, the accusations themselves are absurd and are not confirmed by anything,” he said, as quoted by Forbes Russia.