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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Plan to Charge Tycoons

Federal prosecutors said Wednesday they plan to bring criminal charges against media tycoons Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky later this month and threatened to arrest them. The two cases are not related.

In an official statement, Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolmogorov said Berezovsky will be charged in relation to a long-running corruption probe into the alleged diversion of funds from Aeroflot. Kolmogorov did not specify the charges.

Gusinsky will be charged with embezzlement and fraud, Kolmogorov said in a different statement. He said prosecutors have proof that Gusinsky transferred abroad the assets of his Media-MOST holding the parent company of NTV television, which is often critical of the Kremlin to shield the holding from creditors.

Gusinsky and Berezovsky a former Kremlin insider who has apparently fallen out of favor since Vladimir Putin became president were summoned to appear at the Prosecutor Generals Office in Moscow on Nov. 13.

Click here to read our special report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.Both men are currently abroad, their aides said.

Kommersant, a daily paper owned by Berezovsky, reported seeing him last week in Paris and said he was staying at the Bristol hotel, the same luxury hotel chosen by Kremlin aides preparing for Putins visit this week. Berezovskys aide could not give his exact whereabouts Wednesday, saying only "he may be on the move."

Gusinsky fled Russia in June after spending three days in prison on charges of embezzlement. He was granted a residency permit in Gibraltar this fall and also spends time in Israel, where he has citizenship, but his aides said they did not know where he was Wednesday.

Aides for both men refused further comment.

Genri Reznik, a prominent Moscow lawyer who once defended Berezovsky and who is now Gusinskys defense lawyer, said in a telephone interview that he feels "satisfied, knowing that it was me who advised him [Gusinsky] against coming to Russia" for questioning earlier this fall.

Berezovskys lawyer, Semyon Aria, told Interfax he was surprised that the prosecution announced its plan to charge Berezovsky. "As a rule, such things are not announced [in advance]. It looks like a threat," Aria was quoted as saying.

Reznik defended Berezovsky last year when he and two top Aeroflot officials, Nikolai Glushkov and Alexander Krasnenker, were charged with funneling hundreds of millions of dollars of profits from Aeroflot to Swiss firms. Prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Berezovsky in April 1999, but the case against him was later dropped. He has denied all accusations.

This year, the more than two-year-old case was revived. In a statement released Wednesday through Itar-Tass, Kolmogorov said that documents he received from Switzerland prove the guilt of Berezovsky, Krasnenker and Glushkov. He said that Krasnenker and Glushkov will also be summoned to the prosecutors office and charged with theft.

He said the prosecutors will consider preventative measures against Berezovsky, "including, if necessary, an arrest," Itar-Tass reported.

Prosecutors questioned Berezovsky about the case last month. He said he testified as a witness and went to the questioning against the advice of Gusinsky.

Gusinsky was arrested June 13 after he appeared at the prosecutors office for questioning. He was released three days later and the case against him was suddenly dropped "for the lack of a crime" after he agreed to sell Media-MOST shares to state-dominated natural gas monopoly Gazprom in a secret deal.

Gazprom said it was trying to collect $211million of a $473 million debt owed by Media-MOST.

Saying he signed it "at gunpoint," Gusinsky has since repudiated the deal, which offered him protection from prosecution and was signed by Press Minister Mikhail Lesin. Gazproms media arm urged federal prosecutors to launch two criminal cases against Gusinsky, one for breaking the deal, the other on allegations he hid Media-MOSTs assets abroad.

Gazprom and Gusinsky later settled the conflict relating to the deal, but prosecutors went ahead and launched the criminal embezzlement case in late September.

When asked to appear for questioning in September, Gusinsky invited the prosecutors to come to Israel, where he was at the time.

If he fails to show up Nov. 13, Kolmogorov said in the official statement, "the investigator will take adequate measures. We may search for him through Interpol."

Media-MOST said in a statement that the prosecutors allegations against Gusinsky are no different from the charges brought against him in June, which were dropped for lack of a crime.

NTV television reported the prosecutors intention to charge Gusinsky well into its evening broadcast and did not mention the case against Berezovsky.

Berezovsky has 49 percent of ORT television, but last month he gave his shares to a group of journalists and intellectuals to hold in trust. He said this would safeguard ORT against what he called increasing government pressure.

Ariel Cohen, a Russia expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said he thought the cases against Gusinsky and Berezovsky were entirely different.

"Berezovskys investigation focuses on his business practices and those of his associates, including the former Kremlin entourage," Cohen said in an e-mail from Washington. "Its about business practices, not freedom of the press."

"In Gusinskys case, its political. It is a vendetta against a tycoon whose media outlets mightily annoyed the Kremlin, and whose TV station and other media holdings the Kremlin is attempting to put under control," he said. "For me as an observer of Russia and a lawyer, it is a political prosecution, not really a political case."