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Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Mobile-Phone Mogul

Yevgeny Chichvarkin

Yevgeny Chichvarkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia has issued an international arrest warrant for a billionaire who fled Russia after being threatened with prosecution for kidnapping and blackmail.

The fate of Yevgeny Chichvarkin, 34, who spoke out about official corruption, is widely viewed as a test of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's pledge to protect business from unwarranted interference from prosecutors.

Chichvarkin, who helped found one of Russia's biggest mobile-phone retailers before selling out last year, moved to London last December with his family.

"Today the prosecutor-seneral submitted to Interpol a request for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Yevgeny Chichvarkin," said Marina Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office.

"The prosecutor-general has studied the case and concluded that there is a basis...for his arrest and extradition, if he is found in any foreign country," she said.

The charges against him relate to the 2003 kidnapping and blackmail of a former employee believed to have stolen from the company.

'Absolutely No Evidence'

His lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said his client denied the charges and that the proper legal procedures had been breached in the case.

"There is absolutely no evidence of his guilt," his lawyer said, adding that Britain would be unlikely to grant extradition. "It is my view that Russia will be refused extradition due to the procedural breaches."

Chichvarkin did not answer repeated calls to his mobile phone. He made a name for himself in Russia by complaining openly about corruption in law enforcement agencies, who he said had sought to paralyze his business with demands for bribes.

The entrepreneur was an unusual member of Moscow's business elite, sporting jeans rather than a business suit and driving an orange Porsche sports car.

Kremlin officials have refused to comment, saying prosecutors are still working on the case.

In the past few years foreign investors have been alarmed by a series of prosecutions of leading businessmen, including the sentencing of former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky to eight years in a Siberian prison on fraud and tax evasion charges.

When Medvedev replaced his mentor Vladimir Putin as president last year, he promised to stop arbitrary investigations into businessman, a commitment that was welcomed by Russia's business community.

Chichvarkin expanded his Euroset mobile phone retail chain from two to 5,000 stores in less than a decade. Last year the company reported revenues of more than $3 billion.

In November, Chichvarkin announced he had sold his 50-percent stake in the company. Media reports said the company was sold for $1.25 billion dollars, $850 million of which was used to pay off debts.

Euroset has since said it has cut all ties with Chichvarkin.