MOSCOW, July 30 (RIA Novosti) - Russian prosecutors have brought a new $13 million embezzlement charge against Boris Berezovsky, a fugitive tycoon residing in the U.K., a court-appointed defense lawyer said Monday.
"Berezovsky is charged with setting up a criminal group in 1997 to obtain credit funds of SBS-Agro [bank then owned by Berezovsky] to buy real estate on the Mediterranean coast in France," Andrei Borovkov said. Following the charge, a Moscow court ordered the seizure of a luxury home owned by Berezovsky in France.
Russia's repeated requests for the extradition of Berezovsky from the U.K., along with several other prominent figures charged with serious crimes in Russia, have so far been refused.
The Moscow City Court said the Prosecutor General's Office had demanded that Berezovsky, who already faces charges of stealing money from Aeroflot, the airline he once controlled, and of plotting a coup, be arrested 'in absentia' on the new embezzlement charge.
The outspoken ex-oligarch, once a media magnate with interests in aviation and car manufacture announced plans in April to overthrow President Vladimir Putin by force.
Berezovsky, who fled to London six years ago, was granted political asylum in Britain and later citizenship. To add to the current tensions between Moscow and London over Russia's refusal to extradite a key suspect in the murder of his associate, Russian ex-security officer Alexander Litvinenko, Berezovsky claimed earlier in the month that Russian security forces had sent an assassin to London to kill him.
Berezovsky has refused to send any of his own defense lawyers to his ongoing trial-in-absentia in Moscow, which he has branded a "farce."
Defense lawyer Borovkov said that in the latest case, a commercial organization obtained loans, and "after a few transactions, money came to companies allegedly controlled by Berezovsky," but that Berezovsky did not in fact have anything to do with them.
Another member of his court-appointed defense team, Semyon Aria, said Berezovsky - who now goes by the name Platon Elenin in the U.K. - rented a country house in France in 1997. "Later the house was sold to a British company," he said. The lawyer said Berezovsky was not involved in these deals.
Russia's top prosecutors launched criminal proceedings in the case on June 29. Aria said this new case is the 11th to be launched against his client in Russia. Under Russian law, the tycoon theoretically faces over 12 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
The Prosecutor General's Office has pushed for the seizure of Berezovsky's real estate in France, and Moscow City Court press secretary Anna Usachyova said the Basmanny Court had arrested a property in France previously rented by Berezovsky, as part of the SBS-Agro Bank case.
"Moscow's Basmanny District Court granted the Prosecutor General's Office's request to arrest the property - a manor in France," she said. "The procedure to implement this court ruling is set out in statutes of international law."
Andrei Borovkov denied all knowledge of the property seizure. "We know absolutely nothing about this. This decision was probably made in our absence," he said.
As well as what Russia sees as the U.K.'s harboring of known criminals, including Berezovsky, Moscow has cited its Constitution as a reason why it cannot extradite agent-turned-businessman Andrei Lugovoi, accused by Scotland Yard of murdering Litvinenko.
After Moscow gave its official refusal to extradite Lugovoi in early July, tensions escalated, and London expelled four Russian diplomats, a move mirrored by Russia. Visa restrictions have also been slapped on Russian officials by Britain, and vice versa, and antiterrorism cooperation has been suspended.