Israeli enemy of Putin

Leonid Nevzlin brushes off calls for his extradition as yet another Russian ploy to silence him.

Nevzlin 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
Nevzlin 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
Oil tycoon, oppositionist, financial genius, liberal, traitor, philanthropist - in his 47 years, Leonid Nevzlin, a former CEO of the Yukos oil company, once a Russian senator and today an Israeli citizen, has heard it all. He was enshrined many times in Forbes's list of the world's 100 richest men. He is wanted by Interpol, and Russia has numerous times unsuccessfully demanded his extradition from Israel and the US - most likely a subject that wasn't broached this year while he was with the American president at the annual White House Prayer Breakfast. Nevzlin has been living in Israel for more than three years and runs his businesses and philanthropic organizations from here, at the same time closely watching the political process in Russia and still playing an active role in its life. After the imprisonment of his business partner and friend Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2005, Nevzlin announced he was leaving the political arena, complying with the request of Khodorkovsky, who was considered to be a direct threat to the Russian regime. But he continues to be an active and vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin and his regime. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office announced last month that Nevzlin is suspected of involvement in the death of spy Alexander Litvinenko, a well-known enemy of Putin. Litvinenko's wife, Marina, on the other hand, accuses Putin of her husband's murder. Russia has been seeking his extradition since 2004, when a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant against him for several serious charges. This first extradition request was sent to Israel shortly after Nevzlin first publicly declared his support for Putin's then opponent, Our Choice party leader Irina Khakamada. Sources close to the investigation in Israel told The Jerusalem Post that the evidence submitted by the Russian authorities is insufficient to warrant his extradition. "The accusations by the Prosecutor-General's Office made me laugh," Nevzlin says. "I just wish to remind that I made a statement about me seeing Litvinenko in Israel and receiving the dossier from him. I submitted the documents which I possessed to Britain's Scotland Yard. The investigation has finished its work already, and when the decision is made to reveal some of these documents to his family, perhaps some information will appear in the press. Currently I can't reveal what's in them so that I will not sabotage the judicial process." Nevzlin says he met Litvinenko in Tel Aviv to discuss the Yukos affair three months before his death and gave him some documents which point to "criminal acts committed in direct collaboration with the Russian government involving illegal attempts to reacquire Yukos" - which had been privatized after the collapse of the Soviet Union. THE MAN who once walked down Moscow streets escorted by dozens of bodyguards now casually strolls in Herzliya or Tel Aviv alone or with friends and family. When asked whether he is afraid for his life, Nevzlin smiles. Surviving the "Wild West" years in Russia (the post-perestroika period during which crime was part of everyday routine), you become quite a fatalist, he says. "Perhaps I lost some sharpness of perception living here in Israel, but I see it just as a car accident. I won't let them poison my life with suspicions, awe and terror." Today, after many of his close friends and partners have been arrested and sent to Siberian camps and he himself had to flee Russia, nothing much can shock or surprise him. "God knows why are they are trying to link Litvinenko's murder to the Yukos case," he says. "Perhaps it's being done to build a bridge to new accusations against me, some other murder cases. It's hard for me to understand how their minds operate. But since they were able to build a case against Khodorkovsky using open materials, such as auditor's reports and invoices as evidence, anything can happen." Litvinenko waged a serious battle against the regime, therefore his murder was anticipated to some degree, and Nevzlin believes that the traces of radioactive polonium found in his body leave no doubt that the Russian regime was responsible. "I have no doubt in my heart that the Russian Federation and its leaders orchestrated this murder, and that it was sanctioned by the highest rank in the country," he says.