Ex-Volgotanker Exec Detained in Germany

Russian prosecutors are seeking the extradition from Germany of U.S. citizen Ilya Katsnelson, a former executive at what was Russia's biggest river shipper, Volgotanker, on major fraud charges, authorities said Monday.

The move is the latest step in a legal onslaught that has seen the Yukos-linked shipping firm bankrupted by back tax claims and many of its former senior executives either jailed in Russia or fleeing abroad.

Katsnelson, the former head of Volgotanker's Danish subsidiary, Volgotanker Marine Services, was detained Feb. 29 in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, which borders Denmark, a spokesman for the Schleswig-Holstein police said by telephone Monday.

Katsnelson is yet to be charged but is being held in Schleswig-Holstein, pending a hearing at an unspecified local court, the spokesman said. None of the region's courts could be reached for comment late Monday.

Tatyana Turnayeva, a spokeswoman for the Russian Interpol bureau, said Monday that Katsnelson, who was born in Moscow in 1966, had been arrested on a request from Interpol.

The Samara region branch of the Investigative Committee is handling the case and will be responsible for filing the extradition request, Turnayeva said. The "very long" process could take "several months," she said.

A spokesman for the Samara region branch of the Investigative Committee confirmed on Monday that it was seeking to extradite Katsnelson from Germany.

Since 2004, Volgotanker has been slapped with back tax claims and fines totaling over 3.3 billion rubles ($140 million) in moves that the company's management say were linked to the highly politicized legal attack against the Yukos empire of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Yukos was Volgotanker's top customer until the shipper signed a contract with state-run Rosneft in 2005.

Volgotanker's operations were frozen in 2005 and last year proceedings were started to begin selling off the company's assets to pay off its debts.

Volgotanker executives appealed to President Vladimir Putin over what they saw as political persecution. At a final news conference pleading the company's case, executives held up a sign reading, "We are not Yukos."

Katsnelson has been on the international wanted list since late 2005 after fleeing Russia, Russian media reported. Former Volgotanker chairman Alexander Alexandrovich and managing director of subsidiary Volgotanker-AMS are also wanted by Russian authorities after fleeing abroad. According to Interpol, both are currently in Britain.

In September, a Samara court jailed the head of Volgotanker's Samara branch, Vladimir Koryakov, for seven years, former chief accountant Lyubov Bazilskaya for six years, head of security Yevgeny Artyukhov for six years and head of shipping policy Yury Isaichev for five years, Interfax reported at the time.