Boris Berezovsky is unlikely to ever be extradited to Russia. On Friday Bow Street Magistrate’s Court in London dropped the extradition proceedings against the entrepreneur ruling that it would be pointless to pursue the case as the granting of asylum status to Berezovsky made the proceedings redundant.
The humiliating announcement for the Russian prosecutors, was made by Judge Timothy Workman on the day when a delegation of high-ranking officials from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office and the Justice Ministry including the deputy prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, and Deputy Justice Minister Yuri Kalinin were in London.
''I think the fact that Berezovsky was granted political asylum and the court stopped considering the case, which was announced on Friday, is a temporary stage. I do not think that Russia will stop there,'' Deputy Justice Minister Yury Kalinin told a news conference on Monday. ''Of course, questions will be raised. I think that more important developments are ahead,'' he added.
''The prosecutor's office has sufficient enough evidence to continue the [extradition] procedure. The matter will be dealt with by the prosecutor's office. I think that it will continue to take steps,'' Kalinin pointed out.
As Gazeta.Ru wrote last week, after three years of living in self-imposed exile in London, Boris Berezovsky was eventually granted political asylum in Great Britain. The first to announce his new status was Boris Berezovsky himself. He did so in a live interview to the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Wednesday evening.
Russia accuses Berezovsky and his business associate Yuly Dubov of defrauding the administration of the Samara Region of millions of dollars in the mid-90s. The tycoon has resolutely denied the charge, saying it is politically motivated and that it amounted to an attempt by the Kremlin to retaliate against him for his harsh criticism of Vladimir Putin’s policies, and for his support of opposition forces in Russia.
By international law, refugee status is granted to a foreign citizen or a person without citizenship if there are well-founded grounds to fear his or her persecution at home on the basis of race, religion, nationality, personal opinions or membership in a certain political group. By granting political asylum to such a person, the government automatically acknowledges that he or she is persecuted unlawfully at home.
In a majority of countries it is stipulated by law that a political refugee cannot be banished from that country, Boris Berezovsky’s lawyer Semyon Aria confirmed to Gazeta.Ru last Wednesday. In Aria’s opinion, Britain’s move can be considered a refusal to extradite Berezovsky to Russia. ''I do not know all the subtleties of British law, but from the standpoint of clear logic, if the country grants someone political asylum, it naturally must turn down his extradition request,'' Aria said.
Extradition proceedings against Boris Berezovsky began in London in April 2003, after the Prosecutor General’s Office accused the entrepreneur and Yuly Dubov, Berezovsky’s former business partner in Logovaz, a major car dealership, of stealing cars from the VAZ car plant and defrauding the administration of the Samara region of $1.9 billion. The two were summoned to a police station in London on March 24 to be informed that Russia sought their extradition on fraud charges. The tycoon and his business partner were then released on bail of 100,000 pounds each.
Berezovsky’s associate Yuli Dubov will, nonetheless, have to appear before Bow Street Magistrate’s Court on October 6. Like Berezovsky, Dubov has applied for asylum in Britain, but his application is still being examined by the Home Office. On Friday British authorities said that if Dubov, too, becomes a refugee, the extradition proceedings against him will also be dropped.
In the meantime, the same Bow Street court is still examining the case of another fugitive from Russia, rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, wanted in Russia on numerous charges including terrorism and murder. Judge Timothy Workman is to announce a verdict on Zakayev in early October, but the chances of the court ruling in the Russian prosecutors’ favour seem very slim.
At a previous session in July this year a key witness for the prosecution publicly recanted his earlier evidence against Zakayev. The former chief of Zakayev’s bodyguards Vakha Dashuyev told the court that Russian secret services had forced him to give false evidence after weeks of threats and torture.
Duk-Vakha Dashuyev signed an affidavit in December 2002 in which he claimed that one of Zakayev’s bodyguards had confessed to him that it was Zakayev who ordered the kidnapping of two Orthodox priests in 1995. Gazeta.Ru wrote earlier that one of the main charges against Aslan Maskhadov’s aide was masterminding the abduction of Rev. Philippe (Sergei Zhigulin) and Rev. Anatoly (Chistousov), who had arrived in Chechnya to negotiate the release of Russian soldiers from rebel captivity.
Speaking in the London court in July, Dashuyev said that the Russian secret services had used threats and violence and finally forced him to give false evidence against Zakayev. Dashuyev recounted that he was detained by Russian special forces on November 27, 2002 and brought to the Khankala military base. There he was thrown in a pit, and for several days security officers tortured him with electric shocks, forcing him to testify against Zakayev. Dashuyev said he had held out for six days before eventually agreeing.
The witness told the court that he had been a director of the security department at the Culture Ministry in the short-lived Chechen rebel government. Dashuyev got to know Zakayev, the then-minister of culture, in 1996. During his work as the ministry’s security chief, Dashuyev got to know Zakayev very well, and Dashuyev believes this was the reason for his detention by the FSB and the torture he was subjected to.
Dashuyev claimed that security agents forced him to sign a document stating that he personally, on Zakayev’s orders, took part in the abduction of two Russian priests, to which Dashuyev objected because the abduction took place in 1995, when he had not known Zakayev and therefore could not have carried out his orders.
Then Dashuyev was offered another variant – to sign a statement that he had allegedly heard one of Zakayev’s bodyguards confess to kidnapping the priests. After six days of threats and torture, on December 2, Dashuyev eventually signed the document, and shortly afterwards he was shown on Russian television, denouncing Zakayev and accusing the former culture minister of giving the order to kidnap the priests.
After two months of detention he was discharged with a warning that if he ever retracts his evidence, he would be ''flayed alive''. Shortly after his release, one of Dashuyev’s acquaintances warned him that he was released only to be killed. Dashuyev then fled the country. It took him several months to implement his plan, Dashuyev told the court, but he would not elaborate, saying only that he had contacted Zakayev’s defence lawyers and they had helped him to get to London.
The crown prosecution service, representing the Russian government, asked the court to be adjourned, saying they needed to consult with the Russian authorities. Dashuyev’s testimony sent shockwaves through the trial’s British participants. ''This really is the darkest day for Kremlin justice,'' a lawyer for Zakayev, Edward Fitzgerald said.
Russia has demanded Britain extradite Akhmed Zakayev, an aide to the Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, on over a dozen charges ranging from grievous murder to planning terrorist attacks. Zakayev was arrested in December last year at Heathrow airport after arriving from Denmark, where the envoy spent several weeks in custody, while Copenhagen studied the evidence of his alleged crimes presented by Russian prosecutors.
The Danes eventually freed the Chechen, explaining their refusal to extradite him by the fact that the key witness in the case, Rev. Philippe, had only been questioned six years after his release from captivity. The priest testified in autumn last year that Zakayev had been informed of his abduction. In other words, he could have been behind it, the priest said. Later, however, in his interviews to several Russian newspapers Rev. Philippe retracted his earlier testimony.
Earlier this month the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia again urged Britain to extradite Zakayev pledging that the Chechen would not suffer any discrimination on the grounds of his ethnic origin and would face a fair trial at home. ''I can guarantee this, not just for my own part, but on behalf of the Russian state,'' Deputy Justice Minister Yuri Kalinin told the court in London last week.
Russia’s Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky, speaking at a news conference in London on Friday said that Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev could even be amnestied. However, he said that it would be premature to discuss the issue of amnesty because the London court has not yet made a decision on Zakayev's extradition to Russia.
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