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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 13:27 GMT
Gusinsky to remain in jail
Vladimir Gusinsky answering questions at his extradition hearing
Mr Gusinsky objects to being treated like a criminal
By Flora Botsford in Madrid

A Spanish court has ruled that the Russian media magnate, Vladimir Gusinsky, should remain in prison until a decision is reached on his extradition.

Mr Gusinsky is wanted in Moscow to face multi-million-dollar fraud charges, but his lawyers will not be pleased that he is being treated - as they put it during an earlier court appearance - like a common criminal.

Vladimir Gusinsky in court
Mr Gusinsky has promised not to leave Spain
Since the date for the extradition hearing was announced earlier this week, he has been forced to exchange house arrest in his luxury villa in Sotto Grande, near the southern Spanish port of Cadiz, for a normal prison outside Madrid.

At Thursday's hearing, Mr Gusinski argued that there was no chance of him fleeing the country. Going back to Moscow would be like giving a present to the Kremlin, he said, and he had no intention of doing that.

But Spanish prosecutors fear that, because of his high profile and financial clout, there is a real danger of him fleeing Spain.

Sanctuary

Israel, in particular, might be in a position to offer him sanctuary.

Mr Gusinsky holds an Israeli passport and is an important figure in both Russian and international Jewish organisations.

Gusinsky's progress
1999
Switches sides to join anti-govt camp
June 2000
Briefly arrested in Russia for fraud
December 2000
Re-arrested in Spain for fraud

What his continued detention may mean is that the Spanish court will make a ruling on his extradition sooner rather than later, that it could be in days rather than weeks.

The Spanish authorities arrested Mr Gusinsky in December last year on an order by Interpol.

Russian state prosecutors have accused him of fraud amounting to $250m in loans given to his company, Media Most, by the gas monopoly Gazprom.

Persecution claim

Mr Gusinsky denies the allegations, saying his debts have been paid and arguing that he is the victim of political persecution by the Kremlin.

Mr Gusinsky's holding company, Media Most, in its publications, television and radio programmes, has been critical of the Russian government over the war in Chechnya, the Kursk submarine tragedy and investigations into corruption by the Moscow authorities.

"Whatever the outcome of the extradition case, we are talking about more than extradition here," he told the court on Thursday.

"This case is about freedom of expression in Russia and the future of the independent media."

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See also:

26 Dec 00 | Europe
Court dismisses Gusinsky case
22 Dec 00 | Europe
Gusinsky freed on bail
16 Jun 00 | Europe
Gusinsky: Thorn in Putin's side
28 Mar 00 | Business
Russia's new oligarchs
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