A Los Angeles lawyer trying to collect an unprecedented $413,000 libel award against the Soviet newspaper Izvestia seized his first Soviet asset Thursday--the typewriter of an Izvestia correspondent in Washington.
Attorney Gerald Kroll estimated that he might be able to sell the manual Russian-language typewriter for $500 to $1,000. Although that would leave him roughly $412,000 short of his goal, he claimed a moral victory over the Soviet Union.
"The money's not the important thing," Kroll said. "Izvestia libeled my client by calling him a spy, and it's important symbolically that the first Soviet asset we've attached is one of Izvestia's typewriters."
The symbolism was lost, however, on Izvestia correspondent Leonid Koryavin, who complained that the seizure of his typewriter was an infringement on freedom of the press.
"They take my typewriter--from point of journalist ethics it's very wrong," Koryavin said in a telephone interview after Kroll and two U.S. marshals left the Chevy Chase, Md., apartment that serves as both his office and home.
"I don't want to meet again with marshals," Koryavin added. "How would you feel if somebody took your camera or your pencil?"
Couldn't Carry More
Kroll, who has been scouring the country for Soviet assets to seize since winning the libel judgment in June, said he would have taken a lot more than Koryavin's typewriter Thursday if he could have carried anything else out of the apartment.
"We had a writ to seize everything in the apartment that belongs to Izvestia, but the typewriter was the only thing I could carry," he said. "There are also three desks, three metal filing cabinets, some bookshelves and a big color television set. I'm going back for all that tomorrow with a truck."
Guessing the total value of Koryavin's office furnishings at about $5,000, Kroll expressed optimism at his chances of making some quick sales to convert the assets into cash.
"Russian typewriters with a Cyrillic alphabet keyboard are very rare," he said. "The typewriter will bring good money and the color TV is almost new. It should sell easily."
Kroll won the libel award in Los Angeles federal court against both the Soviet Union and Izvestia on behalf of Palo Alto businessman Raphael Gregorian, who ran a medical supply company with a Moscow office for 15 years before losing his Soviet business license in 1984 after Izvestia called him a U.S. spy.
'Just the Start'
"People said we'd never collect a dime of this judgment, but this shows we can do it," Kroll said in a telephone interview. "The typewriter is just the start. I told Mr. Gregorian this morning that we had an Izvestia typewriter and he couldn't believe it. He is real excited."
Kroll said he was told by the U.S. State Department that the Soviet Embassy in Washington wants to discuss the seizure of the typewriter and the planned seizure of the rest of Koryavin's office equipment, but he said there is no legal way the Soviets can keep him from going back for the television set and the other furniture.
He plans a visit to Izvestia's offices at the National Press Club in Washington today, he added, to see what other Soviet furnishings might be seized to apply against the judgment. In addition, he said, he is seeking to attach Soviet cash assets in two U.S. banks and supplies purchased by the Soviets from another U.S. medical firm and which have not yet been exported to the Soviet Union.
"We thought about a month ago that the Soviets were going to try to resolve this and pay up," Kroll said. "But nothing came of the talks we've had. Our only choice is to keep plugging away and taking their assets wherever we can find them."