Gusinsky extradition bid fails

An Athens appeals court took less than five minutes yesterday to reject Moscow’s politically sensitive request for the extradition of a Russian media tycoon on $250 million fraud and money-laundering charges. The decision allowed Vladimir Gusinsky, 51, to walk free after a forced sojourn of over six weeks in Greece following his August 21 arrest at Athens airport on an outstanding international warrant. He left late yesterday for Israel, where he lives. The court found that there was no evidence to back up the Russian fraud claims against the media entrepreneur, who formerly controlled Russia’s influential private NTV television network that angered the Kremlin with its critical coverage of the war in Chechnya. Moscow claims Gusinsky misrepresented the assets of his media holdings to secure a multimillion dollar loan from the state gas giant, Gazprom. Gusinsky was given back the 100,000-euro bail he had paid on August 29 to secure release from Korydallos prison, where he had been held pending hearing of the Russian extradition request. After an initial discussion on September 29, the Council of Appeals Court Judges had requested further documents to back Moscow’s claims. These were sent last week. The case threatened to involve Greece in a diplomatic tug of war. Gusinsky had claimed from the start that the charges were politically motivated, a sentiment shared by the USA and Israel – the businessman holds an Israeli passport and is vice chairman of the World Jewish Congress – both of which pressed Athens to reject the extradition bid. Following yesterday’s decision, the Russian prosecutor-general’s office issued a statement insisting that Gusinsky’s status had not changed. «He is accused of large-scale fraud,» a statement said.