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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberal Businessman Put on Wanted List

Igor Linshits, head of the Concern Neftyanoi business group and a prominent supporter of liberal politicians, was put on a federal wanted list on charges of illegal banking activities and money laundering, the Prosecutor General's Office said Friday.

The announcement came nearly two months after prosecutors and OMON special forces raided a Neftyanoi affiliate, Neftyanoi Bank, in an investigation into suspected money laundering. The raid was seen by some as a warning to backers of the liberal opposition, including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who last year declared his intention to run for the presidency in 2008.

Linshits appeared to be out of prosecutors' reach. He left Russia for an unidentified European country, Kommersant reported Saturday. Officials at Neftyanoi declined to comment Friday.

The Prosecutor General's Office refused to provide details of the charges, but a source in the office told Interfax on Friday that Linshits had been charged with earning 57 billion rubles ($2 billion) through illegal banking activities and laundering 610 million rubles ($22 million). No time frame for the alleged offenses was given.

Founded in 1993, Concern Neftyanoi includes Russia's 76th-largest bank, Neftyanoi, and various petrochemicals, construction and media interests.

Yeltsin-era powerbroker Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and a co-leader of the Union of Right Forces party, or SPS, resigned as a director of Neftyanoi Bank after last month's raid.

At the time of the raid Nemtsov, along with a number of political observers, said the search could be a warning from the authorities to businesses not to side with the opposition.

Nemtsov resigned his post at the bank a few days after the raid in an apparent attempt to reduce the political risks for Neftyanoi.

When contacted by telephone Sunday, Nemtsov refused to comment on the charges against Linshits. He also declined to comment when contacted by Kommersant.

Nemtsov's reluctance to speak out could have been prompted by a desire to protect Linshits and Neftyanoi's business, liberal politician Irina Khakamada said.

"You have to remember what happened to Yukos. Any public attempt to resist provokes an even tougher reaction, any comment can harm the company," she said, Kommersant reported.

The news of the charges against Linshits came a day after Nemtsov was appointed to head an SPS committee tasked with uniting the liberal opposition.

Despite repeated attempts to form a united front against the Kremlin, the country's liberal parties have yet to agree on a common program or pick a leader acceptable to the various parties and factions.

Some recent progress, however, was made when liberal parties agreed to field a united list of candidates for December's Moscow City Duma elections. Despite the overwhelming victory of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, a coalition of parties running on the Yabloko party's ticket, including SPS, managed to win three seats in the 35-member legislature.

The renewed efforts by SPS to unite the liberal opposition were welcomed Friday by Yabloko's first deputy chairman, Sergei Ivanenko.