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A former Russian tycoon who once led separatist region launches a hunger strike in Azerbaijan jail

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A former Russian tycoon who once led separatist region launches a hunger strike in Azerbaijan jail
News

News

A former Russian tycoon who once led separatist region launches a hunger strike in Azerbaijan jail

2024-04-19 22:36 Last Updated At:22:40

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A former Russian tycoon jailed in Azerbaijan on charges stemming from his time as a top separatist figure in the Karabakh region has gone on a hunger strike, his family said Friday.

Ruben Vardanyan started the fast two weeks ago to press demands for a speedy trial, news agencies cited the family as saying.

Vardanyan cofounded Troika Dialog, once among Russia's top investment banks, and amassed wealth estimated at reaching $1 billion.

In 2022, he renounced his Russian citizenship and moved to the Karabakh region, parts of which were run by ethnic Armenians who sought to split away from Azerbaijan.

He became the region's state minister, the equivalent of premier, but was dismissed in 2023. Azerbaijan, which had regained control of large parts of Karabakh in a 2020 war had been calling for him to be ousted.

Azerbaijan took full control of the rest of Karabakh in a lightning offensive in September 2023 that drove almost all of the region's 120,000 Armenians to flee.

Vardanyan was arrested while trying to cross into Armenia and was charged with financing terrorism and establishing armed groups.

FILE - In this photo taken from video released by State Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, Ruben Vardanyan, the former head of Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist government, center, is escorted by Azerbaijani security service agents in Baku, Azerbaijan. Vardanyan, a former Russian tycoon jailed in Azerbaijan on charges stemming from his time as a top separatist figure in the Karabakh region has gone on a hunger strike, his family said Friday April 19, 2024. (State Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan via AP, File)

FILE - In this photo taken from video released by State Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, Ruben Vardanyan, the former head of Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist government, center, is escorted by Azerbaijani security service agents in Baku, Azerbaijan. Vardanyan, a former Russian tycoon jailed in Azerbaijan on charges stemming from his time as a top separatist figure in the Karabakh region has gone on a hunger strike, his family said Friday April 19, 2024. (State Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan via AP, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are signaling to donors that they are putting their rivalry behind them after a contentious and often personal primary fight.

DeSantis convened his allies this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to press them to raise money to support Trump, making the case over a seafood and steak dinner that they need to work together to prevent Democratic President Joe Biden from winning a second term. The governor and about 30 people then spent Thursday morning in a hotel conference room raising money for an outside group that supports the former president's 2024 White House campaign.

Trump called into the gathering to thank members of the group for their work, according to four people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to publicly discuss the private session and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In what three people present described as a warm and gracious call to the group that was heard over speakerphone, Trump praised DeSantis and the effort, saying “Ron, I love that you’re back.”

A reconciliation helps both of them. Trump is trying to make up fundraising ground against Biden while DeSantis hopes to preserve a potential future White House run for which Trump's supporters could be key.

DeSantis and his top donors raised more than $3 million on Thursday for the super political action committee Right for America, backed by big Republican donors such as Ike and Laurie Perlmutter, who have agreed to match at least a portion of the DeSantis team’s fundraising rather than funneling money directly to Trump's campaign.

That arrangement, reached after talks between the Trump and DeSantis camps, is designed to address concerns among DeSantis supporters about their money going to pay the former president’s legal bills, according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks. Trump notably blessed the structure when he called into the group's meeting Thursday.

“This is where I want you to focus,” Trump said in a roughly 15-minute call, according to a senior political adviser to DeSantis who was not authorized to publicly discuss the private meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

DeSantis’ decision to push money to the PAC instead of giving directly to Trump’s campaign has raised eyebrows among some Trump campaign officials, according to a person familiar with the former president's campaign thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the arrangement.

Right for America is competing for donors with MAGA Inc., the chief super PAC backing Trump. Such groups are prohibited from directly coordinating with a presidential campaign, something that hamstrung DeSantis during his presidential run due to conflicts between his campaign and his support of Never Back Down, the largest super PAC backing DeSantis’ candidacy.

Other supporters of both men support the arrangement. Right for America is run by Sergio Gor, a longtime Trump ally who is close to the former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The two run Winning Team Publishing, which published two of the former president’s books.

“We are thrilled by the support we are receiving from Governor DeSantis," Gor said in a statement. "We look forward to ensuring President Donald Trump is elected in November.”

Some DeSantis donors had been reluctant to give to Trump because they worried their money would help pay Trump’s lawyers in his criminal cases instead of being used directly to focus on beating Biden.

A number of big-name Florida contributors who have given to DeSantis remain hesitant about contributing to efforts to support Trump, said Al Hoffman, a Palm Beach County Republican donor and former Republican National Committee finance chair.

“I know that there are Republican conservative, big-money donors that are very reluctant to endorse Trump,” said Hoffman, who was also chairman of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 2002 reelection campaign.

DeSantis endorsed Trump when he dropped out of the race and promised in a face-to-face meeting with the former president in April to work for his campaign. The 45-year-old governor, who has won two terms and pushed a longtime swing state increasingly to the right, may run for the White House again and would need the backing of Trump voters in a future Republican primary.

DeSantis called his allies to Fort Lauderdale this week to raise money for Trump, telling them on Wednesday night that they needed to work to prevent a second Biden term.

The meeting was the kickoff for what is expected to be a coast-to-coast fundraising effort by DeSantis allies, with upcoming events likely in Texas, California, Washington state and perhaps New York.

Trump and DeSantis have also discussed a role for the governor at the Republican National Convention. Aides to DeSantis said it was Trump’s suggestion and was not contingent on any fundraising effort on DeSantis’ part.

Donors who discussed the Thursday event were struck by the collegiality between Trump and DeSantis during the call. One person who spoke on condition of anonymity about the closed-door gathering called the conversation “very gracious” and noted that Trump and DeSantis talked about golf, a favorite Trump pastime.

Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

FILE - President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., in the Oval Office of the White House, April 28, 2020, in Washington. Trump and DeSantis are signaling to donors that they're putting their rivalry behind them. DeSantis has convened his allies this week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to press them to support Trump. He argued to them Wednesday, May 22, 2024, that they need to work together to prevent President Joe Biden from winning a second term. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

FILE - President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., in the Oval Office of the White House, April 28, 2020, in Washington. Trump and DeSantis are signaling to donors that they're putting their rivalry behind them. DeSantis has convened his allies this week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to press them to support Trump. He argued to them Wednesday, May 22, 2024, that they need to work together to prevent President Joe Biden from winning a second term. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

FILE- President Donald Trump stands behind gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis at a rally in Pensacola, Fla., Nov. 3, 2018. Trump and DeSantis are signaling to donors that they're putting their rivalry behind them. DeSantis has convened his allies this week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to press them to support Trump. He argued to them Wednesday, May 22, 2024, that they need to work together to prevent President Joe Biden from winning a second term. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

FILE- President Donald Trump stands behind gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis at a rally in Pensacola, Fla., Nov. 3, 2018. Trump and DeSantis are signaling to donors that they're putting their rivalry behind them. DeSantis has convened his allies this week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to press them to support Trump. He argued to them Wednesday, May 22, 2024, that they need to work together to prevent President Joe Biden from winning a second term. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

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