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Former Russian Media Baron Detained in Greece, Awaits Extradition Decision

Greek authorities detained Gusinsky at Athens international airport when he arrived on a flight from Tel Aviv in Israel, where he had been living in self-imposed exile since fleeing fraud and money-laundering charges from Moscow three years ago. Gusinsky, who once owned Russia’s largest independent television station as part of his vast media empire, was arrested on an international warrant for fraud charges in excess of $250 million.

The Athens Appeals Court on Monday ruled that Gusinsky will be held in a top-security jail until Greece’s top court decides whether to hand over former tycoon to Russian authorities. A Justice Ministry spokesman could not say how long it would take for the ruling but suggested the court could take up to several weeks to issue a decision.

Gusinsky’s lawyer told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency the matter would be resolved within 30 days, under a bilateral Greek and Russian agreement.

However, Greek prosecutors have not received a formal extradition request from Russian authorities, and Moscow has not indicated whether it would seek Gusinsky’s return.

Gusinsky, 51, became one of Russia’s wealthiest men following the collapse of communism. After founding Most Bank in 1989, Gusinsky went on to launch the independent NTV television network, the Segodnya newspaper, and the news magazine, Itogia, as part of the holding company, Media Most.

The business tycoon was also known as an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, notably with NTV’s internationally acclaimed coverage of the separatist violence in Chechnya.

After Gusinsky lost control of NTV in a corporate takeover by state-controlled Gazprom three years ago, the former oligarch accused the Kremlin of engineering the takeover to silence political critics.

The warrant for Gusinsky’s arrest accuses him of massive fraud and of embezzling $263 million. Those charges originated from an audit performed by Gazprom after its corporate takeover of Gusinsky’s NTV network in 2000.

Russian authorities in 2000 briefly detained Gusinsky after masked government agents raided the offices of his main holding company, Media Most. Gusinsky’s arrest drew international attention and criticism, raising concerns over the freedom of the press in Russia’s fledgling democracy and Putin’s policies concerning the media. Authorities released Gusinsky, who soon after fled the country.

One year later, Spanish authorities arrested Gusinsky, confining him to house arrest for several months in his villa. That same year, a Spanish court refused Russia’s extradition request, saying Moscow’s charges were more political than criminal, and then freed him.

Gusinsky has denied all accusations against him, asserting Moscow’s charges are politically motivated.

Since then, Gusinsky’s Media Most holdings, including the Segodnya newspaper, have been dismantled or sold.

Gusinsky, who holds dual Israeli and Russian citizenship, intended to leave Israel to join his family in Athens for a vacation on their yacht, according to a report by Radio Free Europe.

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