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Russia's Gusinsky flies to Israel

Gusinsky
Gusinsky says charges against him are politically motivated  

TEL AVIV -- Media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, wanted in Russia on fraud charges, has flown to Israel from Spain where courts rejected an extradition request.

A dual Russian-Israeli citizen, Gusinsky arrived on a hired executive jet from the British dependent territory of Gibraltar.

He declined to give details of his plans in Israel, and did not say how long he intended to stay.

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A justice ministry official said Israel and Russia were signatories to a pan-European agreement that made extradition possible.

But Gusinsky's Spanish defence lawyer, Domingo Plazas, said it would be "extremely difficult" for Gusinsky to be extradited to Russia from Israel, where immigrants from the former Soviet Union wield political clout.

"If he is going to Israel, it is because he has full confidence in the Israeli government," Plazas said.

Gusinsky says both the takeover and the legal action against him are politically motivated and stem from the Kremlin's determination to end his company Media-Most's critical reporting.

Gusinsky was until recently the leader of Russia's Jewish Congress and is vice-president of a worldwide Jewish group.

U.S. Jewish organisations had urged Spain not to extradite him to Russia and were likely to oppose any Israeli move to do so.

Last week Spain's High Court turned down Russia's request for his extradition, ruling that his alleged fraud offences were not crimes in Spain.

But while Gusinsky has been in his Spanish villa, his NTV television company, Russia's most important news source outside Kremlin control, has been taken over by the state-dominated gas giant Gazprom.

Gusinsky's Media-Most group had pledged shares as security for millions of dollars of loans from Gazprom.

On Tuesday Russian prosecutors announced new charges, accusing Gusinsky of laundering about $100 million connected with loans from Gazprom, and said they would request a new international arrest warrant for him through Interpol.

Putin says there is no Kremlin campaign against Gusinsky and that the law is simply taking its course. Gazprom says its motive for taking over NTV is purely commercial, not political.

A spokeswoman for the Russian prosecutor's office said in comments broadcast on the main state-run television channel, ORT, that new evidence would "allow Interpol to proceed with their operations (against Gusinsky) all over the world."



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