THE FORMER Russian media baron Vladimir Gusinsky appeared in an Athens court yesterday in the first phase of a battle against extradition to his homeland on multimillion-pound fraud charges.
The Greek prosecutor George Vlassis ordered the authorities to detain the 51-year-old former owner of the independent NTV television station until a second hearing later in the week. "It is set to be a long procedure," a court official told The Independent.
The one-time mogul was arrested on Thursday at Athens airport after travelling from Tel Aviv in Israel. He was carrying Russian and Israeli passports and his reason for travelling was unclear.
Confusion also surrounds the decision to detain Mr Gusinsky. Airport officials said they responded to an international arrest warrant, but separate reports suggested that police were acting under an agreement with Moscow. According to Interpol, the international police body based in Lyon, no arrest warrant has been issued. Two years ago, Interpol's general secretary, Ronald Noble, stated that Mr Gusinsky's case was politically motivated. Interpol's statutes ban it from interfering in political affairs.
The Greek government spokesman Christos Protopappas said the authorities had a warrant on their database. "From the minute there is a warrant in our archive - and we have an agreement with Russia - we have to carry it out," he said. "Greece can't ignore its international obligations."
The Greek court will need a formal extradition request to proceed but Mr Protopappas refused to confirm whether Moscow had lodged such a request. Court sources said the adjournment was necessary while Athens waited for Moscow to respond. Mr Gusinsky's lawyer said he would contest the legality of the arrest.
Mr Gusinsky was a member of an elite group of Russian businessmen known as the oligarchs who amassed fortunes from the new private sector in Boris Yeltsin's Russia. The media owner lost his businesses and fled to Spain in 2000 after falling out with the Kremlin, which unsuccessfully sought his extradition.
His arrest was made amid a row between the Kremlin and another oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which has fuelled talk that President Vladimir Putin is reining in the super-rich elite in advance of parliamentary and presidential elections.
The oligarchs have a powerful voice through their links to the Russian opposition. Mr Gusinsky claims the charges against him are motivated by NTV's critical coverage of Mr Putin and the war in Chechnya.
A flurry of police raids last month ruptured a three-year peace pact between the Kremlin and the dozen or so super-wealthy but legally tainted oligarchs, who control an estimated 70 per cent of Russia's economic output. Russian police raided the offices of the Russian oil group Yukos. One of its top executives, …