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Israel lets fugitive ex-Yukos official keep Israeli citizenship

MOSCOW, May 14 (RIA Novosti) - The Supreme Court of Israel has ruled against stripping ex-Yukos official Leonid Nevzlin, wanted in Russia on charges of organizing murders and attempted murders, of Israeli citizenship, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

Nevzlin immigrated to Israel in 2003 following the arrest of several Yukos officials, including CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was Russia's richest man at the time. Khodorkovsky is now serving an eight-year prison term in Siberia on charges of stealing government shares, illegal oil trading, and laundering $25 billion earned from oil sales in 1998-2004.

Last month, Youli Nudelman, a witness at the trial in absentia of Nevzlin, and also a well-known Israeli human rights activist, told the Moscow City Court that in 2003 Nevzlin had received Israeli citizenship in one month and three days by donating $1.5 million to a diaspora museum and promising an additional $20 million. The citizenship process usually takes at least a year.

Nudelman said Nevzlin also lied in his application for citizenship by stating he was not facing criminal charges in Russia.

"Having realized that the noose around his neck was becoming tighter, Nevzlin fled to Israel and presented a false application; he could not have failed to know he was on the wanted list," Nudelman said.

Investigators claim that between 1998 and 2002, members of an organized criminal group instructed by Nevzlin killed, among others, businesswoman Valentina Korneyeva and the mayor of the Siberian oil town of Neftyugansk, Yury Petukhov.

Prosecutors said Nevzlin was also behind several attempted murders. They allege he gave direct instructions to the former chief of Yukos security, Alexei Pichugin, to organize and carry out attacks. Pichugin is serving life in prison in Russia for murders and attempted murders. He maintains his innocence.

Russia has been pressing Israel to extradite Nevzlin on murder charges. The businessman, who earlier publicly declared he was willing to spend time and money to oppose the Kremlin following the jailing of Khodorkovsky, has denied the charges, saying the case against him is political.

Once Russia's largest oil producer, Yukos collapsed after claims of tax evasion, which led to the company being broken up and sold off to meet debts. The bulk of the company's assets were bought up by government-controlled oil company Rosneft, making it Russia's largest crude producer.

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