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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Financier Accused Of Paying Ransoms

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov claimed Tuesday that prominent financier Boris Berezovsky had paid substantial ransoms in exchange for the release of hostages, and alleged this had fueled the rash of kidnappings in the region.

Berezovsky, who has played a part in releasing dozens of hostages from Chechnya, including British charity workers Camilla Carr and Jon James, who were freed in September after a year in captivity, has vehemently denied paying ransoms.

The businessman only acknowledges that he provided humanitarian aid, including computers, to people in the impoverished region.

But in an interview published Tuesday, both Maskhadov and the president of the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, alleged that ransoms had been paid.

"In circumvention of the Chechen government, he comes with suitcases full of money and heaps of computers and bails out the captives," Maskhadov said in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. "This only stimulates the appetites of gangsters and discredits my nation."

Berezovsky on Tuesday denied the allegations. But the claims will add to the uncertainty surrounding the already shadowy activities of the financier in Chechnya. Maskhadov's comments are also potentially embarrassing for the British government, which accepted Berezovsky's help in securing the release of James and Carr. Britain insists that it never pays ransoms.

One of Russia's wealthiest men, Berezovsky holds the post of executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the loose association of former Soviet republics. Though this gives him no formal role in Chechnya, he is frequently in the war-torn republic and in the last two months has played a part in the release of some 55 Russian servicemen.

After Carr and James were released last month, they were flown to Britain aboard Berezovsky's private jet.

Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio station Tuesday, the financier said Maskhadov made the allegations out of desperation. The Chechen president is struggling to restore Chechnya's devastated economy and is under pressure from rivals to step down.

"I personally have taken part in the release of 55 people and have not paid a kopek for them," he said. "Our actions are totally pragmatic and are based on the fact that we must bring all our people back from there. If we start paying, then that will not be possible."

He added that Maskhadov's statement is "a result of the hopelessness that [he] is feeling. Russia has turned its back on him, ... and now the world is turning its back on him. Unfortunately he is not able to control the situation in Chechnya."

A British Foreign Office spokesman said of Maskhadov's claims: "It is not for us to comment. We can only comment on the attitude of the British government and that is ... we have never paid any ransoms nor do we ever intend to pay any ransom."

"Mr. Berezovsky informed us that no money was paid for Camilla Carr and Jon James," the spokesman said, adding that the Foreign Office believes Berezovsky's statement.

However, Maskhadov's comments were backed up by Ingush President Aushev, who, though he did not mention money changing hands, alleged that the humanitarian aid Berezovsky supplied was effectively a ransom payment.

In an interview also published in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Aushev said that Berezovsky "directly approaches Chechen field commanders, for instance Salman Raduyev, and makes agreements with them."

Hostages are "exchanged for computers, with which Raduyev's residence is now crammed. He is now better equipped than some Russian special services," Aushev said.The Ingush president said the price of ransom demanded for presidential envoy to Chechnya Valentin Vlasov, who was abducted on May 1, soared from $4 million to $7 million after payments were made for the release of other hostages.

In spite of a pledge by Maskhadov to release them, hundreds of people, including several foreigners, remain in captivity in the secessionist republic. The head of Chechnya's anti-terrorist unit, responsible for combatting kidnappings, was killed by a car bomb late last month.

Three Britons and a New Zealander, abducted a month ago in the Chechen capital, Grozny, just a few blocks away from the headquarters of the anti-terrorist unit, are still missing. The four, employees of a British telecommunications company, were working on a contract to set up a cellular phone system in Chechnya.

On Monday, two men suspected of kidnapping the four were detained by the Chechen police, Chechnya's deputy security minister Nasrudi Bashiyev was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Three other hostages seized in Chechnya were freed in a major crackdown on kidnappers Monday. The men - one from Uzbekistan and two from Ukraine - were captured in October and released in Ingushetia, Interfax reported.

Efforts are continuing to free Vlasov. At a press conference Tuesday, Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin said Russian authorities had a chance to free Vlasov recently, but their attempt to do so was hindered by "certain people" who paid "big money to prevent the Russian Interior Ministry from liberating" Vlasov.

He would not elaborate, adding though that Vlasov, who is his close friend, "will certainly be freed. That's a matter of honor for me."

Stepashin also joined Berezovsky in denying that ransoms had been paid and praised the financier for his help in freeing hostages.

"A total of 55 servicemen have been released [in the last two months] ... young boys. I do not know what price we should speak about. Ask their parents, their relatives. Those people have survived, they are alive," he said. "I officially state that no ransom has been paid."

Maskhadov's comments may have been caused by his feeling of "offense, as [the Chechen] authorities have thus far been unable to ensure that hostages be released," Stepashin told reporters.