Russian billionaire becomes an Israeli

Partner of Yukos figure is granted citizenship

November 06, 2003|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW - A billionaire partner of the former Yukos Oil executive Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky has been granted Israeli citizenship as prosecutors continue to pursue their aggressive investigation of the oil giant.

Leonid Nevzlin, 43, named by Forbes Magazine as Russia's 11th-richest person, left Moscow two months ago, not long after he was questioned by Russian prosecutors in connection with the Yukos case.

He was made an Israeli citizen Sunday.

One Israeli opposition legislator, Collette Avital, questioned the speed with which Nevzlin, who is Jewish, won citizenship under Israel's right-of-return law.

"Suddenly, overnight, he became a dedicated Zionist and he got citizenship in a speedy manner and we have to ask why?" wire services quoted her as saying.

But immigration officials said Nevzlin had not received any special treatment, and other officials noted citizenship would not automatically shield him from extradition.

Forbes reported earlier this year that Nevzlin is one of 17 Russian billionaires, worth $1.1 billion.

The Russian media have reported that Khodorkovsky has given Nevzlin control of 50 percent of the shares in Menatep, the holding company that owns a large stake in Yukos.

Control of those shares could prove important if the Russian government were to label Yukos a criminal enterprise and try to seize its assets.

Khodorkovsky is accused of cheating the state of $1 billion through fraud and tax evasion.

Nevzlin helped Khodorkovsky create his financial empire in the late 1980s, when Khodorkovsky founded a youth "science center" that served as a launching pad for several enterprises, including Menatep Bank.

The Yukos investigation has been condemned by political critics of the Kremlin, who say Russian authorities sought to cut off the politically ambitious Khodorkovsky's financial support for opposition parties in advance of the Dec. 7 Duma elections.

Born in Leningrad, Nevzlin is a former head of the Russian Jewish Congress, a group founded by another exiled Russian billionaire, Vladimir Gusinsky.

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