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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Indicted for Massive Fraud

Prosecutors turned up the heat on exiled magnate Boris Berezovsky on Wednesday, indicting the former Kremlin insider and two of his business associates for "large-scale fraud" at flagship automaker AvtoVAZ.

Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said Berezovsky, together with Badri Patarkatsishvili and Yuly Dubov, used Berezovsky's LogoVAZ dealership in a complicated scheme to defraud AvtoVAZ out of more than 2,000 cars worth $13 million in 1994-95.

Berezovsky, who has lived in London since fleeing the country two years ago, and Patarkatsishvili, who reportedly lives in Georgia, have already been charged with car theft as part of a sweeping investigation of criminal activity at Tolyatti-based AvtoVAZ. But the new, more serious charge allows prosecutors to seize Berezovsky's property and formally seek his extradition.

"We have no doubts that the law enforcement bodies of Britain will [comply with] our request for extradition, in line with legislation and international accords," news agencies quoted Kolesnikov as saying. "All extradition documents have been prepared."

Last month Georgia said it would not extradite Patarkatsishvili. Dubov, who wrote a book on Berezovsky's life that hit movie "The Oligarch" is based on, is reportedly in Moscow.

Kolesnikov said arrest warrants would be officially issued this week.

In a telephone interview from London, Berezovsky laughed off the charge.

"The Prosecutor General's Office doesn't impress me anymore," he said. "I have lost count -- is this the fifth or sixth crime I am charged with?"

"There is absolutely no chance [that Britain will extradite me]," he said, adding that it would be impossible to seize all of his holdings in Russia.

"They already took all I had -- ORT, Ogonyok," he said. "My daughter owns a house [in Moscow]; if they take it, no problem.

"I share my Russian business with partners," he said Wednesday. "To arrest it they will have to arrest all the businesses in Russia."

In an interview published in business daily Vedomosti last month, Berezovsky claimed to have personal assets worth $3 billion -- including $1.5 billion in Russia, through stakes in Russian Aluminum, Sibneft and various media interests.

Kolesnikov said investigators are taking every measure possible to confiscate Berezovsky's property.

When Kolesnikov announced the car-theft charge last month, he said prosecutors were targeting three mansions in the Moscow region that Berezovsky paid for with money he made from the car scam. He also said Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili paid $260,000 for a dacha in the Moscow region for Nikolai Tikhonov, a former head of the Soviet Union's Council of Ministers, where one of Berezovsky's daughters now lives. In addition, the two men used ill-gotten funds to buy more than $1 million worth of real estate in St. Petersburg, he said.

Berezovsky made his first million, however, through LogoVAZ, which he established in 1989 with Patarkatsishvili and senior managers of AvtoVAZ, including current CEO Vladimir Kadannikov. Ostensibly, the company was created to provide the aging AvtoVAZ factory with automation software. Instead, it quickly began selling cars and became the auto giant's official dealer.

Berezovsky said he did not understand why prosecutors were making such a fuss about the 1994-95 deal.

"I don't want to say that Kadannikov or Titov have somehow been involved in illegal activities. ... Everyone understood what was going on and everything was done legally," Berezovsky said.

Konstantin Titov has been the governor of the Samara region, where Tolyatti is located, since 1991.

In announcing the car-theft charge, Kolesnikov said Titov needed to answer some "very serious questions" about the case. On Wednesday, he said that Titov had been questioned and that he gave "extensive evidence."

Kolesnikov did not elaborate, but his spokeswoman, Lyudmila Takayeva, said by telephone from Samara that investigators had examined all the documents on AvtoVAZ and LogoVAZ kept by the regional administration and admitted that there were "some violations in the payment schemes between the two," but she declined to elaborate.

Despite Berezovsky's confidence that Britain would never extradite him, legal experts say prosecutors may have a chance.

"To convince Britain to extradite Berezovsky, Russian prosecutors need enough evidence to prove that it is not a political prosecution, but a criminal one," said Mara Polyakova, head of the Council of Independent Legal Experts.

Russia has never officially submitted an extradition request to Britain.

However, two years ago Russia requested that Britain allow its prosecutors to question Alexander Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service officer who announced in 1998 that his superiors had ordered Berezovsky's assassination.

The request was denied because Litvinenko had already been granted political asylum, which was granted when he fled to London after several criminal cases were opened against him.