A business magnate and former Kremlin insider, Boris Berezovsky, was arrested Monday after Russian officials sought his extradition on fraud charges totaling $1.9 billion, British police said today.
Berezovsky was released on bail and told to appear in court on April 2 for extradition proceedings.
Berezovsky, a member of former president Boris Yeltsin's inner circle, was arrested with Yuli Dubov, a co-director and former chief executive of the Logovaz car company that Berezovsky set up in the early 1990s.
"The charge alleges that between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1995, they defrauded the administration of the Samara region of 60 billion rubles [$1.9 billion] while being directors of Logovaz," London police said in a statement.
Last November, Russian authorities asked British police to arrest and extradite Berezovsky, who has been living in London, on charges focusing on the theft of cars from Logovaz. Samara is a region and city on the Volga River about 500 miles southeast of Moscow.
Berezovsky told a Russian radio station today that the Prosecutor General's office had not provided any evidence against him in papers sent to Britain. "This is all politically motivated," he told Ekho Moskvy radio from London. "I can say quite plainly that the prosecutor's office is bluffing."
As a senior adviser to Yeltsin, Berezovsky held several top positions, including deputy secretary of the Security Council.
Berezovsky played a key role in implementing a peace agreement in 1996 that ended Russia's first war against Chechen separatists, often acting as a go-between in helping to free hostages. Using his control of Russia's main national television network and other media, he helped plan the election campaign that brought President Vladimir Putin to power in 2000.
He fell out with Putin, however, and left the country. Russian prosecutors have since probed his affairs, and courts have stripped him of his once-mighty media empire. He has become a fierce critic of Putin.
In an interview last November, Berezovsky said he did not think Britain would extradite him. "There are a lot of political reasons for the Russians to request my extradition, and there are politicians here who may want to be polite to Russia, but the court is independent," he said. "According to my knowledge of England . . . and English courts, I won't have any trouble with my future."