Moscow Expects Chichvarkins Arrest

MTFormer Yevroset chairman Yevgeny Chichvarkin, seen in his Moscow office last year, says he has not received any notification of criminal charges at home.

A British court has issued an arrest warrant for fugitive cell phone tycoon Yevgeny Chichvarkin, who has been on Russia’s most-wanted list since January, Russian investigators said Thursday.

Chichvarkin’s lawyers denied the claim and British authorities refused to comment.

The Investigative Committee said in a brief statement that the Westminster Magistrates’ Court had sanctioned Chichvarkin’s arrest on Aug. 27.

A committee spokesman refused to comment beyond the statement.

Chichvarkin’s lawyer Yury Gervis told The Moscow Times that no arrest warrant had been issued and the court was simply starting to examine the case of the former Yevroset chief, whom Russian prosecutors want to extradite on charges of smuggling and extortion.

Gervis refused to share his source of information about the court proceedings. Chichvarkin has also hired lawyers in Britain.

Reuters, citing an unidentified source connected to British law enforcement, reported that an arrest warrant for Chichvarkin had been issued but not executed.

A spokesman for the Westminster Magistrates’ Court refused to confirm whether the Chichvarkin case was being considered by the court or whether an arrest warrant had been issued. “The court cannot certify the claims made by the Russian authorities,” the spokesman said by telephone from London.

The British Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service also refused to comment.

Chichvarkin could not be reached for comment. He said Wednesday, in his first major interview since fleeing Russia in December, that he had not received any documents from Russian investigators confirming that he was wanted in Moscow to face criminal charges.

British authorities have given Russian prosecutors two possible addresses where Chichvarkin might be living, RIA-Novosti reported from London on Thursday.

Any movement toward Chichvarkin’s arrest would be a coup for Russian investigators, bitter over the fact that several high-profile suspects have managed to escape their reach in Britain. Prosecutors filed a formal extradition request to Britain in June.

The 34-year-old co-founder of Yevroset, Russia’s largest mobile phone retailer, faces charges that he participated in the 2003 abduction of the firm’s shipping agent, Andrei Vlaskin, who had allegedly stolen large quantities of mobile phones, as well as the extortion of money from him. In July, prosecutors added a charge of lying to investigators. If tried and convicted, Chichvarkin faces up to 20 years in prison.

He has maintained his innocence.

The Investigative Committee said Thursday that it had pressed charges against eight Yevroset employees: vice president Boris Levin, former deputy head of security Andrei Yermilov, Vitaly Tsverkunov, Roman Chichkov, Alexei Olesik, Yury Rogov, Sergei Katorgin and Alexander Kurta.

It said Katorgin and two others made plea bargains to cooperate with the investigators in exchange for having their prison sentences reduced by a third.

Chichvarkin has lived in London since leaving Russia in December. Gervis said he has not applied for political asylum or British citizenship.

He might open business soon, possibly in the service industry, Chichvarkin told Business FM in the interview Wednesday.

Chichvarkin sold Yevroset in September last year to the ANN investment company for $1.25 billion. Yevroset runs over 5,000 outlets in 1,464 cities in Russia and several other former Soviet republics. The company’s sales reached $5.61 billion in 2007, RIA-Novosti reported Wednesday.

Regardless of the status of the Russian case against him, Chichvarkin is unlikely to be sent from Britain in the near future because the extradition process is lengthy. According to information on the Crown Prosecution Service’s web site, the home secretary must first issue a certificate, and then the police would have to apply to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court for an arrest warrant. Once the person is arrested, he is brought to the court as soon as possible. A district judge then fixes a date for an extradition hearing, which must take place within two months.

The Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and the Westminster Magistrates’ Court would not say Thursday whether the process had started.

Chichvarkin said Wednesday that he would be happy to appear at any British court. “The court in London wants something long-forgotten in Russian jurisprudence: evidence,” he added.

A handful of Russians wanted at home, including billionaire Boris Berezovsky, former Chechen separatist emissary Akhmed Zakayev and Russneft billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev, have settled in Britain, with some of them gaining British citizenship or political asylum.

Moscow has failed to have any of them extradited. Zakayev was briefly arrested by British authorities in December 2002 when he was returning from Denmark.

Zakayev welcomed the court hearings as an opportunity to present his case in front of an international audience. All 13 accusations of criminal acts on which the Russian authorities based their extradition claim were proved false in the court.