Exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky currently resides in London
The man the late Forbes magazine journalist Paul Klebnikov referred to as "The Godfather of the Kremlin" may have pushed his luck this week, when he called for the violent overthrow of the Russian government in an interview with the UK Guardian.
Russian prosecutors have tried many times to extradite Boris Berezovsky from the UK to face fraud charges back in Russia. The British government has consistently refused these requests. As we have reported previously here at Russia Blog, after Anna Politkovskaya was murdered and Alexander Litvinenko died from radiation poisoning late last year, these extradition requests were no longer in the news.
Today the UK Foreign Office issued a statement declaring that everyone in Great Britain must abide by the laws, and that calling for the violent overthrow of a sovereign elected government is unacceptable behavior for anyone residing in the country. Fearing deportation, Berezovsky backtracked today from his radical statements, claiming that he was only advocating "direct action" and non-violent resistance to the Russian authorities. The UK Guardian interview, however, made it clear that Berezovsky advocated the use of force if necessary to topple the "Putin regime".
In light of his extreme rhetoric, shady past and close association with exiled fundraisers for Chechen terrorists, the question Russians ask is: why does anyone in the West still take this man seriously as an advocate for "freedom" and "democracy"?
A Russia Today TV news clip about "The March of Those Who Disagree"
UPDATE - Saturday, April 14, 2007: Welcome, Pajamas Media readers!
Over at the Belmont Club blog, Australian blogger Richard Fernandez (aka Wretchard the Cat) asks if there is any connection between Boris Berezovsky's call for a violent revolution earlier this week and the "Other Russia" demonstration led by former chessmaster Garry Kasparov held today in Moscow
(UPDATE2: You can now watch a Russia Today news clip about the march in the extended post)..
Russia Blog has written about Mr. Kasparov's efforts before, including his hopes for a united opposition against Putin joining Russian liberals with Russia's Communists and ultranationalists. Although Wikipedia is often not a reliable source on controversial current issues, it is noteworthy that Mr. Kasparov's Wiki page was updated today.
Boris Berezovsky is accused of inciting the violent overthrow of the Russian government, embezzling resources from Aeroflot when he owned the airline in the 1990s, and engaging in fraudulent real estate transactions (Photo by Rian.ru)
Another criminal case opened against Berezovsky
MOSCOW, April 13 (Itar-Tass) - The Russian Prosecutor General's Office opened another criminal case against Boris Berezovsky over his statements published by the newspaper Guardian.
"The Prosecutor General's Office opened a criminal case against Boris Berezovsky under Article 278 of Russia's Criminal Code /violent seizure of power, i.e. actions aimed at violent seizure of power in violation of the Russian Constitution, and in like manner aimed at violent change of Russia's Constitutional order" a representative of the Prosecutor General's Office told Itar-Tass.
The article qualifies such crimes as serious and very serious, and envisions a punishment of 12 to 20 years in prison.
The Prosecutor General's Office gave instructions to draft and to send to Britain an international legal inquiry, asking the British colleagues to evaluate Berezovsky's statements from the legal point of view. The inquiry will again raise the question of stripping Berezovsky of the refugee status, and of extraditing him to the Russian authorities.
In the latest development, Berezovsky, in an interview with the newspaper Guardian, stated that "we need to use force to change this regime" in Russia.
"There can be no change without force, pressure," he said.
When asked if it meant he was planning a revolution, Berezovsky answered in the affirmative.
Also on Friday, Russian prosecutors brought new charges against Berezovsky in the Aeroflot case, his lawyer Andrei Borovkov told Tass.
"A new charge of stealing and legalizing 214 million roubles of Aeroflot company money was brought against Berezovsky and Glushenkov and the other persons, already convicted in this case," Borovkov said.
"Earlier, Berezovsky figured in the case as accomplice and abettor, but now he's a perpetrator of the crime," the lawyer said.
Borovkov noted that the investigation into the case would be completed on Monday. The parties then "will begin to familiarize themselves with case materials after which the in absentia trial of Berezovsky will start."
An in absentia sentence can be passed on Boris Berezovsky in a criminal case on the theft and legalization of money of the Russian air company Aeroflot, spokeswoman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, Marina Gridneva, said.
At least five criminal cases against Berezovsky were opened in Russia: two cases over actions aimed at a violent seizure of power, one over the Aeroflot money theft, one over the VAZ cars fraud and still another over the illegal acquisition of a house and land plot in the Zhukovka health center in the Moscow region.