July 23, 2020 / 3:05 PM / 18 days ago

Lithuania grants asylum to suspect in Russian probe into oil contamination

VILNIUS, July 23 (Reuters) - Lithuania has granted political asylum to a suspect in a Russian investigation into contamination of an pipeline last year, a senior migration official said on Thursday.

Roman Ruzhechko, an executive at a small oil transport firm, was detained in Lithuania in July last year on an Interpol warrant. Russia had sought his extradition.

Russian prosecutors have charged Ruzhechko and several others with a criminal conspiracy to pollute the network after oil sent by Russia via the Druzhba (“Friendship”) pipeline and to the Baltic port of Ust-Luga was found to be contaminated.

Druzhba serves refiners in Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine and Belarus.

Evelina Gudzinskaite, a director of the interior ministry’s migration department, confirmed to Reuters a report by 15min news website that Ruzhechko had been granted asylum. The decision had been taken in March but was not made public until now.

Ruzhechko sought asylum on the grounds that he would not get a fair trial in Russia, in part due to statements by top politicians in the country, his lawyer told Reuters.

Ruzhechko is free to travel within the European Union without fear of extradition to Russia, the lawyer added.

The contamination involved high levels of organic chloride, a chemical compound used to boost oil extraction by cleaning wells and accelerating the flow of crude.

It was discovered in April last year and led to supplies being interrupted from Russia. Buyers are now seeking compensation worth tens of millions of dollars. (Reporting By Andrius Sytas, editing by Niklas Pollard and Timothy Heritage)

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