Monday, May 6, 2013

The strange, conspiracy-filled case of ‘Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg’

VK founder Pavel Durov, called "the Mark Zuckerberg of Russia," is reportedly in hiding. (VK)  

VK founder Pavel Durov, called “the Mark Zuckerberg of Russia,” is reportedly in hiding.

Imagine if, in the span of a month, the FBI investigated Mark Zuckerberg for a hit-and-run, investors launched a hostile takeover of Facebook and Zuckerberg disappeared under vague circumstances.

It sounds crazy, but that’s more or less the situation playing out in Russia right now, where Pavel Durov, the founder of VK — known as “Russia’s Facebook,” it’s Europe’s largest social network — has been in hiding since security forces fingered him for a hit-and-run and a businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin bought out half the company.

Skeptical reports in Der Spiegel, Britain’s Guardian and the Russian-language business journals AIN and Hopes & Fears speculate that the charges might just be the Kremlin’s latest attempt to clamp down on Russia’s upstart social network, which has become a platform for dissent. According to police, Durov has committed a crime he needs to answer for.

To understand the drama, you need to know a little bit about VK and its history in Russia. The six-year-old site has 46 million active daily users, making it less than a tenth the size of Facebook, which after all is global in reach — but popular enough in Russia and the former Soviet republics to more or less keep Facebook out.

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