Berezovsky Handed 6 Years in Aeroflot Trial

APBerezovsky in July. He called the court's ruling Thursday "an absolute farce."
A Moscow court on Thursday convicted Boris Berezovsky in absentia of defrauding the country's largest airline, Aeroflot, and sentenced the businessman, who lives in London, to six years in prison.

The ruling, in the first of 11 cases against Berezovsky in Russia, gives prosecutors grounds to once more seek his extradition from Britain, where he has political asylum.

Berezovsky, a former Kremlin power broker and now a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, on Thursday slammed the verdict as a politically motivated "farce" and said he "didn't give a damn."

Moscow's Savyolovsky District Court found Berezovsky guilty of stealing 215 million rubles from Aeroflot in the 1990s -- equivalent to $8.8 million at current exchange rates -- through a chain of companies that handled Aeroflot's foreign accounts.

Judge Igor Sheremetyev threw out a charge of money laundering against Berezovsky, instead classifying the money transfers in question as fraud. This and the fact that Berezovsky has an underage daughter prompted the judge to shorten the prison term from the nine years sought by prosecutors.

The court ordered Berezovsky to repay Aeroflot one-quarter of the amount it ruled had been embezzled. Three other men, including former Aeroflot deputy director Nikolai Glushkov, were convicted on the same charges in 2006 and ordered to pay compensation to the airline.

Berezovsky said the case against him was politically motivated, and was inspired by Putin, although he did not identify him by name. "All power in Russia -- executive, legislative and judicial branches -- is concentrated in one pair of hands," he said by telephone from London, in a clear reference to Putin.

Berezovsky has barred his lawyers from defending him in the trial because he thought it would not be fair.

On Thursday, he echoed the remarks of his state-appointed lawyer, Alexander Dudkin, who in July predicted the outcome of the trial before it started.

"I absolutely don't give a damn. ... All this is a formality," Dudkin said at the time.

"As for the ruling, it's an absolute farce," Berezovsky said. "I am absolutely united with Mr. Dudkin in this case. I don't give a damn either."

Berezovsky, who said there were 10 more court cases against him in Russia involving five outstanding arrest warrants, said he had no assets left in the country that authorities could seize.

Prosecutor Alexander Kublyakov said he was unlikely to appeal Thursday's sentence. Kublyakov said the ruling, when it came into force, would allow the Prosecutor General's Office to file a new request for Berezovsky's extradition.

Dudkin said he would appeal the ruling, which could prompt a review of the case in the Moscow City Court. The present ruling will come into force only if that court upholds it.

"We haven't heard a single word about Berezovsky using a single ruble of the money that belonged to Aeroflot," Dudkin said.

Dudkin said it was his duty to appeal, even if Berezovsky did not care. "If I expressed an opinion that Berezovsky is innocent but the court ruling disregarded it, it is my duty to appeal," he said. "It's not a formality, but a duty."

A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office declined to comment on the prospects for a new extradition request for Berezovsky until the court ruling becomes effective.

Britain has already twice refused Russian requests to extradite Berezovsky, with a court declining the first request days after he was given asylum in September 2003. British police had arrested Berezovsky on charges from Russia that he and an associate defrauded a regional government of $13 million in the mid-1990s by stealing cars from Russia's largest automaker, AvtoVAZ.