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Russia Tycoon 'Life At Risk' If Forced From Britain

Yevgeny Chichvarkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A flamboyant Russian retail tycoon said his life would be in danger if he lost a court battle against his extradition from Britain to Russia, according to an interview published on September 21.

Former mobile phone retailer Yevgeny Chichvarkin would be the first person to be extradited from Britain to Russia if he lost the case, though Moscow has repeatedly demanded the return of prominent figures such as Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky.

"They will try to kill me in prison, I know. And preferably on the way there so that I cannot say a word more," Chichvarkin was quoted as saying by the opposition magazine "New Times." He did not say who would try to kill him.

The Russian prosecutor-general's spokeswoman said in June that Chichvarkin had been charged with extortion and with kidnapping while taking part in an organised criminal group.

He was arrested in London on September 7 on the basis of a Russian extradition request, appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court the same day and was released on bail of 100,000 pounds ($163,000) to appear again on September 22 at a preliminary extradition hearing.

Chichvarkin, known for wearing brightly coloured clothes to business meetings, denies the Russian charges, which are linked to his former business empire.

Britain's relations with Russia have been strained by rows over spying and energy, and Britain's refusal to extradite other high-profile Russians has annoyed Moscow.

Chichvarkin said in the "New Times" interview that if he paid tens of millions of dollars, the extradition request and the prosecution case against him would be dropped. He has accused corrupt officials of being behind the charges.

"I am absolutely innocent and I will be proving it to the British court," Chichvarkin told Reuters by telephone from London earlier this month. He said that on legal advice he would not comment on the extradition proceedings.

Chichvarkin expanded his Euroset mobile phone retail chain from two to 5,000 stores in less than a decade, making it one of Russia's biggest mobile phone retailers.

In 2008 he sold his 50 percent stake in the company, whose bright yellow stores pepper high streets across Russia, and moved to London with his family.