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Russian tycoon being tried in absentia

The fugitive anti-Kremlin tycoon must be sentenced to nine years at hard labour in a Siberian prison camp, the prosecutor demands, reports Fred Weir.
Hindustan Times | By Fred Weir, Moscow
UPDATED ON OCT 23, 2007 11:43 PM IST

The fugitive anti-Kremlin tycoon Boris Berezovsky must be sentenced to nine years at hard labour in a Siberian prison camp, the prosecutor in Berezovsky's in absentia Moscow trial has demanded.

"I ask the court to find Berezovsky fully guilty for fraud, embezzlement and laundering of money received in criminal ways," prosecutor Alexander Koblyakov has told a Moscow court, summarising the state's case against the former Kremlin insider who fled to Britain as a political refugee 6 years ago.

Berezovsky is accused of embezzling about $9 million from the Russian national airline Aeroflot, when he controlled the company in the 1990's, and laundering some of the proceeds via shady purchases of a French villa and the Corinthians, a Brazilian football team.

Berezovsky, once one of the world's richest men, was a close friend of former President Boris Yeltsin and a master political manipulator during the 1990's, but was forced to flee the country soon after Vladimir Putin came to power.

The case, expected to wind up next week, is just one of five criminal investigations presently in progress against Berezovsky in Russia.

They include recently added charges of subversion and plotting to overthrow Putin.

An ongoing probe by Russia's FSB security service is looking into allegations that Berezovsky might have had a hand in the murders of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko last year.

One witness allowed to speak publicly by the FSB, Alexander Zharko, has fingered Berezovsky as "an MI6 agent" who tried to recruit him to take part in subversive actions.

Berezovsky, who has refused even to send a lawyer to defend him in the current Moscow trial, insists that the charges are "political fabrications" concocted to punish him for his support of anti-Kremlin opposition activities inside Russia.

Alexander Dudkin, the court-imposed defence lawyer — whom Berezovsky has disavowed — told journalists on Monday that he sees no hope of winning the case because "the investigation has proved that Berezovsky is guilty of all the alleged crimes."

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