Tycoon says Russia drops criminal charges

MOSCOW Wed Jan 26, 2011 4:43pm GMT

A presenter gestures during a televised news conference with Yevgeny Chichvarkin, a former owner of mobile phone retailer Euroset, in Moscow January 26, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

A presenter gestures during a televised news conference with Yevgeny Chichvarkin, a former owner of mobile phone retailer Euroset, in Moscow January 26, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian business tycoon who fled to London in 2008 said on Wednesday that Russia had dropped a criminal case against him but ruled out leaving his self-imposed exile, saying he feared new charges.

Yevgeny Chichvarkin, 36, who helped found one of Russia's biggest mobile phone retailers, Euroset, had faced charges of extortion and kidnapping dating back to 2003, and was accused of running a mafia-like business structure.

The magnate has denied accusations, saying they were brought by corrupt police who sought a stake in his business.

Chichvarkin, who now lives in Britain, said he feared a new wave of prosecution if he returned to his native Moscow.

"The probability (of new charges) is almost 100 percent," he told journalists in Moscow via video-link from London. "I don't have any doubt about that."

Chichvarkin became one in a chain Russian extradition requests unmet by Britain -- a sore point in Moscow's relations with London. He has said he could be killed in prison if he lost a court battle in Britain for extradition.

Foreign investors have been alarmed by prosecutions of leading businessmen in Russia, including last month's ruling in a second trial against former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was sentenced to stay in jail until 2017.

Chichvarkin also criticised Russia's business climate, saying it was growing "worse and worse."

"The spirit of Soviet traditions is coming back, it's seeping from the holes in the floor," he said.

Last April his mother Lyudmila was found dead in her Moscow flat in what investigators said was an accident. The 36-year-old magnate said he believed she was murdered.

(Writing by Alexei Anishchuk, editing by Maria Golovnina)

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