Russia orders arrest of Berezovsky

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The Independent Online
PROSECUTORS IN Russia issued a warrant yesterday for the arrest of the billionaire tycoon Boris Berezovsky on charges of money-laundering.

Investigators suspect Mr Berezovsky of setting up a Swiss company to hide hard currency earnings from Russia's largest airline Aeroflot, in which he has a stake, the Interfax news agency reported.

Mr Berezovsky, who is in France, said he would not seek asylum abroad and vowed to return to Russia to clear his name, although he did not say when he was planning to do so.

"I know that there are many shameless and not very bright people in the prosecutor's office," he said. "They don't have a single chance for success."

Mr Berezovsky's business interests range from oil to airlines to media. He has gained a reputation for meddling in Russian politics and influencing Kremlin decisions thanks to his close links with President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle.

But he started losing influence after a battle erupted with the Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, earlier this year. The row culminated in the tycoon's sacking last Friday as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the alliance of former Soviet republics.

Prosecutors have recently launched a series of searches in offices of companies that Mr Berezovsky is believed to have holdings in, including Aeroflot, Russia's largest airline.

Russian media reports alleged that Mr Berezovsky had created a Swiss company called Andava to accumulate and pocket Aeroflot's earnings. Mr Berezovsky has denied this and other accusations against him, and claims they have been invented by the Russian secret services with Mr Primakov's blessing.

Mr Berezovsky lashed out at the Prime Minister in a recent newspaper interview, accusing him of hatching plans to re-create the Soviet empire.

"Even Communists today are less dangerous than Primakov," Mr Berezovsky said in the Moscow News.

"He poses a greater danger - he wants to again build the empire."

The Russian nationalist politician Alexander Lebed, a leading presidential hopeful, who was supported by Mr Berezovsky during his successful campaign for provincial governor last year, denounced the issuing of yesterday's arrest warrant.

"This is an agony of power," Mr Lebed was quoted as saying. "Everyone has got confused and they're trying to sink each other." (AP)