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Russia: Berezovsky Prepares To Return As Arrest Warrant Canceled

Moscow, 15 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russian prosecutors yesterday canceled an arrest warrant against controversial business tycoon Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky had been wanted on suspicion of laundering hard-currency earnings from the Russian national airline, Aeroflot. Berezovsky -- who is currently in France -- denies any wrongdoing. As RFE/RL's correspondent in Moscow, Floriana Fossato, reports, Berezovsky could be back in Moscow by the end of the week.

When the prosecutor's office issued the warrant for Berezovsky's arrest last week, the controversial businessman was in Paris and, according to many, his declarations seemed to indicate he would be intent on building a future as a wealthy political refugee.

During a recent interview given to RFE/RL's Russian Service, Berezovsky -- a former influential Kremlin power-broker -- indicated he would return to Russia only if he can get guarantees that he will not be arrested.

"I think my lawyer [Genry] Reznik answered the question better than anybody else. He said that Berezovsky has no fear but is not crazy either. It is really like this. I am not crazy, in the sense that I do not think I will be more effective in a cage [in prison] than outside it."

The prosecutor general's office suspects Berezovsky of setting up a Swiss company, Andava, to launder hard currency earnings from Russia's largest airline, Aeroflot. Officials said last week they sent the warrant to the international police organization Interpol to obtain Berezovsky's extradition from France.

However, Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin had said he had no intention of arresting Berezovsky, and yesterday Deputy Prosecutor General Mikhail Katyshev canceled the warrant for Berezovsky's arrest. He said the warrant was canceled because Berezovsky had promised to return and face investigation.

Katyshev, however, told the Interfax news agency that "in the future, much will depend on Berezovsky's behavior."

Berezovsky's lawyer, Reznik, said suspension of the warrant was "the only possible legal decision." He added that he expects that what he called "the professionalism and the sense of honor of Mr. Katyshev" will overcome "any emotional and, possibly, also political passions." The remark seemed to be aimed at Katyshev's alleged close contacts with Communist leaders, who had earlier praised the decision to issue the warrant.

Reznik -- who says Berezovsky will return at an unspecified moment between tomorrow [Friday] and Sunday -- said he could not understand what Katyshev meant when he mentioned Berezovsky's behavior. He said that "if behavior means possible political statements of Mr. Berezovsky, this has nothing to do with the investigation."

Some Russian analysts had speculated that the arrest warrant -- issued just days after the tycoon left Russia -- might have been part of an attempt to keep him from returning and testifying against senior government officials who allegedly had a stake in his business deals.

In his interview with RFE/RL, Berezovsky denied all the charges against him and reacted angrily when asked about his business dealings.

His response was similar when asked to respond to the widespread perception that his close ties with President Boris Yeltsin and his entourage -- particularly with the president's daughter and image-maker Tatyana Dyachenko -- had alienated many people.

"All what you say is fantasy, from the beginning to the end. I never paid too much attention to the outside environment, now I understand I should have. I did not try to understand how it reacts to me, how it resists. I simply went my own way, and I do not particularly regret it. On the contrary, I think I achieved much."

Berezovsky also denied accusations he manipulated the Yeltsin family and clarified statements he made in 1996 on the growing influence of a number of Russian businessmen following Yeltsin's successful re-election campaign:

"I simply said that, according to my own estimation, seven big financial-industrial groups owned more than half of Russia's capital. I did say this and I was wrong, because [gas monopoly] Gazprom alone owns more than one-fourth [of Russia's capital] and Gazprom was not included [in the group of seven]. This is a fact. And I never tried to manipulate the president or his family. I simply tried to express my point of view, openly and consistently. Maybe my opponents were simply weaker in their argumentation. My arguments were remembered; theirs were not."

In the interview, Berezovsky accused Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov of working to restore the Soviet empire and repeated his calls for a ban on the Communist Party.

Berezovsky has been seen as losing clout in a prolonged battle with Primakov, particularly after his recent ouster as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States. But Berezovsky said he does "not want to talk in terms of winners and losers" because, in his words, "I do not interpret what I do as taking part in a game."

Former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko has said Berezovsky was one of the so-called "oligarchs" who contributed the most to undermine his pro-reform government last year.

In his interview with RFE/RL, Berezovsky admitted his role in last year's political and economic fights but portrayed himself as a supporter of reform, who unsuccessfully tried to made the system work better.

"There was a fight within the reform side. I took part in this fight and carry responsibility for the fact that I even stimulated this fight. But ... this is what happened."

Despite the controversy surrounding him, Berezovsky does not shy away from offering predictions about the country's political future. Asked whom he would see as the next president of Russia, Berezovsky -- who in the past seemed to support former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin -- said Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed could stand a good chance.

"It would be a mistake to say today who will be the president of Russia in the year 2000. It is easier to say who will not be president. I am sure [Communist Party leader Gennady] Zyuganov will not be president, under any circumstances. I am almost sure [Moscow Mayor Yuri] Luzhkov will not, despite the fact that today he is a very important figure. I think that a populist cannot become the president of Russia. The president here will be a person who will not follow what society wants to hear, who, on the contrary, will resist a huge part of his entourage and will understand that society itself must change its priorities. This happened many times in Russian history. I don't think [moderate Yabloko leader Grigory] Yavlinsky can be president and, if we talk seriously, I really think that today the biggest chance among politicians who are already on the surface -- after the parliamentary elections there will be other leaders -- without doubt is Lebed's." Berezovsky supported Lebed in his gubernatorial bid last year and explains his analysis by identifying Lebed as the best candidate for the protest electorate, who are tired of Moscow political games.