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After Conviction, Release, And An Eventful Spell In Cambodia, Flamboyant Russian Seeks Presidency

Russian real estate tycoon Sergei Polonsky talks to the media after a hearing at Moscow's Presnya District Court in July.

A flamboyant Russian real estate tycoon who was convicted of financial crimes three months ago says he is running for president.

Sergei Polonsky made the announcement at a Moscow courthouse on November 8 after the judge upheld the previous ruling that led to his release from custody.

"I have made a decision and officially state that I intend to run for Russian president," Polonsky told journalists.

The campaign for the March 18 election has not formally begun, and the Central Election Commission has yet to determine which of the would-be candidates will be on the ballot.

Polonsky's announcement adds to a growing group of hopefuls in a election that President Vladimir Putin, who has not confirmed he will run, is widely expected to enter and secure a new six-year term.

Polonsky was charged in June 2013 with stealing more than 5.7 billion rubles ($98 million) in prepayments for apartments in a housing complex his company was building in Moscow.

In July, Moscow's Presnya District Court found him guilty of large-scale embezzlement and sentenced him to five years in prison -- but ordered his release from custody, saying that the statute of limitations had expired.

Self-Imposed Exile

Polonsky denied wrongdoing, saying the case against him was aimed at taking control of his holdings.

The trial came after Polonsky was extradited in May 2015 from Cambodia, where he was living in self-imposed exile and evading Russian law enforcement.

In 2012, Polonsky and two associates were arrested in Cambodia and charged with beating sailors. The tycoon spent three months in detention and later fled to Israel, where he unsuccessfully sought citizenship, before returning to Cambodia.

Earlier in 2012, Polonsky made headlines in Russia after another tycoon, Aleksandr Lebedev, punched him on a live television show.

It was not immediately clear whether Polonsky would be permitted to run for president.

Electoral officials say that opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who announced his bid almost a year ago, is disqualified because of a financial-crimes conviction he contends was politically motivated.

Kremlin critics say Putin wants a wide field of candidates -- at least at this stage -- to attract interest and put a veneer of competitiveness on an election whose outcome is a foregone conclusion given his grip on the levers of power.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax
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