#16 - JRL 7218
Russia's Berezovsky mocks Putin with face mask
By Kate Holton
LONDON, April 2 (Reuters) - Business magnate Boris Berezovsky, sought for extradition by Russia on fraud charges, left court on Wednesday wearing a mocking mask of President Vladimir Putin, the man he accuses of orchestrating a political campaign against him.
Berezovsky, who was remanded on bail to reappear on May 13, was a former member of ex-President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle. He was arrested in Britain in March after Russian officials sought his extradition on $1.9 billion fraud charges.
Alan Jones QC, representing Berezovsky, said the request for extradition was based on political motives and that his client's life would be in danger if he returned to Russia.
He appeared at Bow Street Magistrates Court alongside Yuly Dubov, a co-director and former chief executive of the LogoVAZ car company which was set up by Berezovsky in 1989. The charges focus on the sale of cars from LogoVAZ.
Berezovsky, who has been living in self-imposed exile in London, used his control of Russia's main national television network and other media to help the election campaigns of first Yeltsin in 1996 and later President Vladimir Putin in 2001.
But he later became a fierce critic of Putin, accusing him of steering Russia back to authoritarian rule, and eventually left the country.
"He lives in fear of assassination, his life would be in grave danger if he returned to Russia," Jones told the court.
"Allegations of the theft of cars is a sham," he said. "The history of this case is simple: it's politically motivated. The policy is, 'denounce Berezovsky as a criminal now, we'll find a crime later."'
Berezovsky played a key role in implementing the 1996 peace agreement which ended Russia's first war against Chechen separatists, often acting as a go-between in helping to free hostages in the volatile southern region.
In one of his more strident attacks, the 57-year-old alleged that Putin knew in advance of blasts in 1999 at an apartment block that were blamed on Chechen rebels.
Berezovsky had asked for asylum in Britain but the application was rejected on March 28, the court heard.
The five charges allege that between January 1, 1994 and December 31, 1995, both defendants defrauded the administration of the Samara region of 60 billion roubles ($1.9 billion). Samara is an industrial area and city about 500 miles (800 km) southeast of Moscow.