Fugitive vows to keep fighting for Russia - In exile in Israel, ex-Yukos oilman plans to continue opposition to Putin (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) By MARK MACKINNON HERZLIA, ISRAEL 04/29/05 Page A3)
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HERZLIA, ISRAEL -- Leonid Nevzlin, billionaire former oil executive
and fugitive from Russian justice, has decided that the weather in
Israel is too hot for a proper Russian banya, or steam house.
He thinks instead that a Japanese onsen bath, with one pool of hot
water and one of cold, will be a better match for the climate in
Herzlia, a posh suburb of Tel Aviv that has become his home in exile.
That Mr. Nevzlin was thinking about personal spas yesterday afternoon
is a sign of how comfortable he has become in his new on-the-lam
At roughly the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin was 90
minutes away in Jerusalem, appealing to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon to hand Mr. Nevzlin over for prosecution in Moscow on a murder
Despite the high-level discussions, Mr. Nevzlin insisted he wasn´t
worried about his fate. Outside Russia, he says, people believe the
charges against him and other Yukos executives are far-fetched and
politically motivated -- concocted as punishment for daring to oppose
an all-powerful Kremlin.
"Putin has already asked for my extradition," said the 44-year-old
father of two, who is accused in Russia of ordering one double murder
and conspiring to commit several other killings.
"If he raises this again, it will not add a thing. Whatever
fabricated evidence Russia may come up with against me would not
stand up in any Western judicial system, including Israel´s. I´m
totally calm and sure of the results."
Despite his best efforts, Mr. Nevzlin was clearly anything but
relaxed as he sat at a long dining-room table -- bare except for a
Passover plate. Throughout our conversation, his body was curled into
a ball of pure tension in his chair, his eyes frequently closed as he
spoke, a clenched fist pressed against his forehead.
He may be safe from prosecution for now, since Mr. Sharon has
publicly promised not to extradite any of the three ex-Yukos
executives living in Israel. But his former business partner, Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, shares a Moscow prison cell with two other inmates,
reportedly living on a daily diet of black bread, porridge and fish
A court trying Mr. Khodorkovsky on charges that he carried out
massive tax evasion and fraud as chief executive officer of Yukos was
scheduled to deliver its verdict this week, but the ruling was
postponed at the last minute until mid-May. If found guilty of all
charges, he could receive up to 10 years in prison.
Mr. Nevzlin said that despite the delay, he expects no leniency for
Mr. Khodorkovsky. He believes the verdict was delayed for political
reasons -- primarily so Mr. Putin wouldn´t have to face embarrassing
questions while playing host on May 9 to world leaders at Victory Day
celebrations in Moscow.
Until Mr. Khodorkovsky´s arrest in 2003, he and Mr. Nevzlin were the
golden boys of Russia´s wild business scene.
Yukos was the darling of Western investors and Mr. Khodorkovsky was
considered Russia´s richest man, with a personal fortune estimated at
$8-billion (U.S.). Mr. Nevzlin was his right-hand man, listed at No.
11 on Forbes magazine´s list of Russia´s richest people, with $1.1-
billion to his name. He was a member of the Federation Council,
Russia´s equivalent of the Senate.
Then came the legal assault on Mr. Khodorkovsky and his company.
While Mr. Khodorkovsky chose to fight the accusations against him,
saying he would remain in Russia on principle, Mr. Nevzlin fled the
country. He became an Israeli through the "law of return," which
grants citizenship to any Jew who arrives in the country and asks for
Mr. Nevzlin repeated his contention that neither he nor Mr.
Khodorkovsky broke Russian laws, and that the charges they face were
invented to punish them for their political opposition to Mr. Putin.
Before his arrest, Mr. Khodorkovsky had donated money to opposition
political parties and had taken to openly criticizing the Russian
Mr. Nevzlin says he decided to speak out about the case after keeping
silent for more than a year after former Yukos security chief Alexei
Pichugin was sentenced to 20 years in prison for two murders Mr.
Nevzlin is alleged to have ordered.
"I can´t be silent any more, even though some people in Russia think
that my speaking out can hurt those who are in jail," he said,
speaking softly in Russian.
Mr. Nevzlin said he plans to wage political war against Mr. Putin,
who, he says, has taken Russia back to the Soviet era by destroying
independent media and crushing political dissent.
"I will fight against dictatorship in the Kremlin. Unlike Putin, I
don´t see anything good in the Soviet Union," he said.
The ex-oilman could provide valuable funding to the beleaguered
opposition. Despite the breakup of Yukos, Forbes estimated Mr.
Nevzlin´s personal fortune at $2-billion last year.
He said he is in contact with Committee 2008, a loose group of
Russian liberals headed by chess master Garry Kasparov that is
fighting to avoid a victory by Mr. Putin or one of his protégés in
the next presidential election.
Mr. Nevzlin also suggested he could ruin the reputations and careers
of some of those in power in Moscow by speaking out about corruption
in Russia. But he said he would not name names for fear of reprisals.
His wife still lives in Russia.
"Naturally enough, like anyone else, I think about the consequences.
A system which is ruled by the KGB, the FSB, I know what the system
would be ready to do to their opponents." (© 2005 Bell Globemedia
Interactive Inc. 04/29/05)
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