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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 17:04 GMT
Russian tycoon 'afraid to return home'
Boris Berezovsky in New York
Mr Berezovsky: anxious at what lies in store in Moscow
Russian media mogul Boris Berezovsky has said that fears for his personal safety are behind his delayed return to Russia to face corruption charges.

Mr Berezovsky refused to return from New York to Moscow for questioning, instead giving a live interview to Russian NTV in which he said that the alleged threats against him came from the highest level.

This is a direct threat to me on the part of the president

Boris Berezovsky
He said he was concerned at remarks reported to have been made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a recent interview with the French paper Le Figaro.

"He said, quite unambiguously, replying to a question which mentioned my name, that he was going to hit my head with a club," Mr Berezovsky said.

"Naturally, the fact that the president of a great and mighty state expresses himself in such terms cannot leave me unimpressed.

"This is a direct threat to me on the part of the president, which was pronounced for the second time," he added.

The case against Mr Berezovsky and another media mogul, Vladimir Gusinsky, head of Most-Media, have raised questions over Mr Putin's commitment to the freedom of the press. Politically motivated

He said he would not be prepared to return home until he was satisfied that the Russian judiciary was not simply acting on the orders of Mr Putin.

Russian prosecutors have accused Mr Berezovsky of siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars from the national airline, Aeroflot, into Swiss bank accounts. He has dismissed the investigation as being politically motivated.

"I will return to Russia only when I am sure that what is called the Aeroflot case is really considered in compliance with the law and not in line with instructions, even if these have been issued by the top-level boss," he said.

Election support

Mr Berezovsky said that his TV channel had backed Mr Putin in last year's presidential election, using funds from firms linked to the airline.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin: accused of authoritarian tendencies
"There was direct funding of Russian Public TV using the money earned by the firms linked to Aeroflot," he said.

"And I think there is no need now to explain who Russian Public TV supported during the parliamentary election campaign and the presidential election campaign," he added.

Mr Berezovsky, who is Jewish, said he was also reluctant to return for as long as politicians were allowed to get away with making anti-Semitic remarks.

He said that in a recent election in the Kursk region, "a man was elected who is fanning inter ethnic strife in practical terms, doing this quite openly".

"He mentioned my name... and said that Jews were destroying Russia."

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01 Nov 00 | Europe
Russian media moguls summoned
10 Sep 00 | Media reports
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