Russian President Vladimir Putin's staff recently told Israeli officials that during his visit to Israel, which begins this evening, Putin might ask Israel to extradite oligarchs to Russia.
The oligarchs are Jewish businessmen whom the Russian authorities suspect of committing economic and other crimes, and who fled Russia after arrest warrants were issued against them. The Jewish businessmen claim that the warrants are politically motivated. The Jewish businessmen include Vladimir Gussinsky, Vladimir Dubov, Leonid Nevzlin, and Mikhail Brudno. Other oligarchs reside in the UK and other European countries.
The Russian media reports that several Yukos (RTS:YUKO) shareholders are suspected of commissioning the assassination of Putin, who has assaulted the company because its heads supported the political opposition in Russia. The reports claim that Yukos shareholders paid $200 million to a group of criminals from the Russian Caucasus province of Dagestan to assassinate Putin. The shareholders allegedly wanted then-Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to be appointed president instead of Putin, because Kasyanov "would not cause them any problems".
Putin claims that the oligarchs, some of whom have found refuge in Israel, fraudulently sent billions of dollars out of Russia, and that some of this money is in Israel. Nevzlin, Dubov, and Brudno, for example, moved to Israel less than two years ago, subsequently launching worldwide businesses.
The Prime Minister's Bureau said last week that there was no intention of acceding to a demand for the oligarchs' extradition. Senior officials in Jerusalem said today that if Putin or one of his staff asks for the extradition of Jewish businessmen residing in Israel, Israel would reject the request out of hand.
Israeli law forbids extradition. Although Israel has signed an extradition treaty with Russia, Article 1 of the Extradition Law (5714-1954) stipulates that Israel may extradite only a person who "committed a crime while an Israeli citizen or resident". At least some of the oligarchs were not Israeli citizens or residents when they committed the alleged crimes for which Russia is seeking their extradition.
The Ministry of Justice said today that Russia had not filed any official request recently for the extradition of any of the oligarchs. Regarding extradition requests submitted outside the context of Putin's visit, the ministry said, "We cannot comment." So far as is known, the Russians submitted extradition requests when some oligarchs immigrated to Israel 18 months ago, and the Ministry of Justice is examining them
The oligarchs, headed by Nevzlin, this week opened an international campaign against the show trial the Russian government is currently conducting against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is Jewish.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on April 27, 2005