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Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 00:54 GMT 01:54 UK

World: Europe

Russian tycoon: 'No fear of arrest'

Berezovsky says he is not afraid of being arrested

Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has launched a media offensive to deny charges of illegal business dealings.

At a news conference at a Paris hotel, the billionaire former car salesman said the warrant for his arrest, issued by Russia's prosecutor-general on Tuesday, was politically-motivated.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy: "The arrest is a murky affair"
He added that he was not afraid of being arrested and would be returning to Moscow soon.

Mr Berezovsky is wanted for arrest for allegedly laundering hundreds of millions of dollars from the Russian national airline Aeroflot.

He is also wanted on charges of abuse of office while he occupied a series of senior government posts and of engaging in other illegal business activities, Russian news agencies have reported.

[ image: Berezovsky: 'The arrest warrant is illegal']
Berezovsky: 'The arrest warrant is illegal'
Investigators suspect Mr Berezovsky of setting up a Swiss company to hide hard currency earnings of Aeroflot, in which he allegedly has a stake, the Interfax news agency said.

Interfax reported that the prosecutor-general had also given the green light for former Aeroflot deputy director Nikolai Glushkov to be arrested.

'Political struggle'

At the news conference on Wednesday, Mr Berezovsky said: "To continue to hide would not be the right way to proceed. I am not afraid of being arrested in Moscow."

Mr Berezovsky, a former Kremlin power-broker, said he had no major quarrel with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

But he said he feared Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was behind the money-laundering charges, and was trying to use his post to influence the president, the mass media and Russian secret services.

"The political struggle has reached its zenith, and it is not agreeable to be in the middle of it", he said.

[ image: Primakov: Furious disagreements with Berezovsky]
Primakov: Furious disagreements with Berezovsky
He said Mr Primakov was "more dangerous that the Communists", and wanted to "rebuild an empire using violence and force ... and anti-semitism.

"But I do not want to depict myself as a victim of communism or anti-semitism. Do I look like a victim?" said Mr Berezovsky, who has Jewish origins.

Mr Berezovsky declined to provide details on his business holdings or on the specific charges against him, saying only that he had never been an Aeroflot employee.

Furious disagreements

The tycoon fell out of favour with the Kremlin at the end of last year when Mr Primakov became Prime Minister.

Since then he has been gradually losing his influence, and has had furious disagreements with Mr Primakov. Last week he was replaced as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Russian media has suggested that the Kremlin might want Mr Berezovsky arrested because he could have incriminating evidence against Mr Yeltsin.

Mr Berezovsky, who has holdings ranging from oil to airlines to media, said the warrant for his arrest was illegal "because the articles on which it is based imply neither arrest nor detention".

News of the arrest warrant comes less than three weeks after President Yeltsin ordered an investigation into a sex scandal involving the prosecutor-general himself, Yuri Skuratov.

Mr Skuratov, suspended by the president last week because he is being investigated for alleged abuse of power, told a special parliamentary session to discuss his case on Wednesday that he was innocent and that the president's action was illegal.

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