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Russian Mogul’s Arrest Criticized

December 13, 2000

MADRID, Spain (AP ) _ A top aide to Vladimir Gusinsky lashed out at Russian prosecutors Wednesday, saying the Russian media baron was arrested in Spain to get him ``back to Russia and to destroy him.″

But Gusinsky’s lawyers said they sent a batch of documents to the Spanish National Court showing Russia’s charges against him are politically motivated and were confident Spain would release him.

Gusinsky, 48, owns the only one of Russia’s three major television networks that is not controlled by the government. He was arrested Tuesday on an international warrant at his mansion in southern Spain.

Spain said Wednesday it would not get into a public debate over whether the fraud charges against him were prompted by his criticism of the Kremlin.

``The object of his arrest is to get Gusinsky back to Russia and to destroy him ... to punish Mr. Gusinsky for the critical line of his media group,″ Igor Malashenko, vice chairman of Gusinksy’s Media-Most companies, told reporters in Madrid.

``I firmly believe in Spanish justice, in its impartiality and I believe justice will be done for Mr. Gusinsky,″ Malashenko said, adding Gusinsky’s attorneys would appeal his jailing.

Russian prosecutors indicted Gusinsky in November on fraud charges, saying he misrepresented Media-Most’s assets when he accepted loans of more than $300 million, guaranteed by Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom. They say Gusinsky’s companies were legally bankrupt at the time.

Gusinsky and Gazprom have reached an agreement to settle the debt.

``If they are accusing him of such unfounded things it leads one to think his detention is for political rather than legal motives,″ Malashenko said.

Gusinsky failed to appear for questioning in the case and a warrant was issued by Moscow through Interpol, the international police agency.

Gusinsky had a preliminary hearing Tuesday before investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon and was jailed pending a review of the case by the court. Russia still has to file a formal extradition request.

In June, Gusinsky was jailed in Russia for four days when he showed up for questioning in the fraud case. The charges were later dropped _ and then the case was reopened. But Malashenko and Gusinsky’s attorneys said the sudden incarceration made Gusinsky afraid to answer the summons.

``Turn up for questioning before the Russian prosecutors would have been like committing suicide,″ Malashenko said.

Spain requires two criteria be met for extradition _ that the offense is a crime in Spain, and that conviction would carry a sentence of more than one year in Spain. Both are met in this case, Spain says.

In Moscow, Yuri Vasilchenko of the prosecutor general’s office said Russia has ``officially informed Spain of the charges against Gusinsky, large-scale fraud.″

But Gusinsky lawyer Pavel Astakhov said in the Russian capital that ``there is absolutely no basis for the case.″

U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright has expressed concern over the arrest, suggesting Gusinsky’s detention could be an attempt by Moscow to muzzle criticism.

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