Will Russia get Gusinsky?

2000-12-14 00:41

Moscow - Russian prosecutors said on Wednesday they were preparing the necessary papers to get businessman Vladimir Gusinsky extradited to Moscow on charges of alleged fraud after he was arrested in Spain.

Gusinsky, detained at Russia's request on Tuesday, has called the charges political and part of an official clampdown on the Russian press. He has come under heavy pressure this year, and was jailed briefly in June, also on fraud charges.

"The Prosecutor General's Office of Russia is currently preparing the necessary documents to solve the question of Gusinsky's extradition in line with the European Convention of 1957 'On Extradition'," the office said in a statement.

Spain and Russia have no direct extradition treaty and work under the 1957 international convention.

The prosecutor's office said it had officially informed Spain about the charges of large-scale fraud which Gusinsky faced and of an arrest warrant issued on November 13.

Gusinsky's media, which include Russia's only independent national television station, NTV, have often criticised the Kremlin and he has said this is why he has been pressured.

A Spanish lawyer told Reuters in Madrid he saw no quick decision on Gusinsky.

"This is an extradition that will be very hard fought," said Manuel Oye, a lawyer specialising in extradition. "It's not your typical example. Cases that are economic and also smell of politics have to be studied very closely and cautiously."

Spanish police seized Gusinsky at his home in the luxury Atlantic resort of Sotogrande near the southern city of Cadiz.

"You are making a big mistake. You don't know who I am, I'm a friend of Bill Clinton's," Spanish daily El Pais quoted Gusinsky as saying to the four policemen who arrested him.

His lawyers have five days to appeal against his preventive jailing. Court sources said they were likely to fail as his high profile and financial clout increased the risk he could flee.

Russia has 40 days to send Spain documentation to back its extradition request, which needs to be translated and checked by the High Court before going to the cabinet for approval. Only then will the court investigation begin and, once finished, its opinion will be returned to ministers for a final decision.

Other extradition cases have taken up to nine months.

Gusinsky Sees Political Motive

Interpol, the international police organisation, has said it was checking the truth of allegations by Gusinsky that the fraud charges have been made on political grounds.

Gusinsky was jailed in June on embezzlement charges, related to a privatisation deal from the early 1990s. He was released after three days and later allowed to leave Russia.

The prosecutor's office has preferred and lifted several charges against Gusinsky. It is not clear on exactly which of them he is wanted now.

The United States expressed concern on Tuesday over his arrest and said the pursuit of the media magnate posed a threat to the independence of the Russian media.

Even without the charges of alleged fraud, Gusinsky's hold on his media firms has been weakened by a deal he signed with giant state-controlled gas company Gazprom.

Under the deal, made to settle outstanding debts, Gazprom took 46 percent of Gusinsky's NTV, plus 19 percent held with no voting rights as collateral to cover outstanding debts.

President Vladimir Putin has responded to the allegations of a crackdown on press freedom by insisting a free media is a vital part of post-Soviet society. But he has also accused media owners of acting "against the state".