Russia ends probe into exiled phone mogul

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Russia on Monday ended its probe into one of the country's best known businessmen, who fled to Britain in the midst of a high-profile business dispute, his lawyer said.

In 2009, Russia charged Yevgeny Chichvarkin -- the co-founder of the country's leading mobile phone retailer Yevroset -- with kidnapping and extortion.

Known for his mullet hairdo and outrageous dressing, Chichvarkin stepped down from his post at the company to promote a new Kremlin-backed liberal party, but then left for Britain fearing for his freedom.

His case unnerved the international investment community in Moscow, already spooked by treatment of the Yukos oil company founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and became another test case of Russia's commitment to the rule of law.

But last week, Russia's Supreme Court upheld a Moscow court's quashing of the charges, paving the way for prosecutors to drop their probe.

Russia's investigative committee also informed the defence that Chichvarkin had been taken off Russia's international wanted list.

"Today, the investigator officially informed me that on the basis of the court decision, the case of Chichvarkin has been dropped," lawyer Yury Gervis was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Speaking from exile, Chichvarkin has lashed out the Russian authorities for interfering in the economy and destroying free competition.

On Monday, he told Moscow Echo radio that he was not yet ready to come home.

"I would like to, but there are too many risks," he said from London.

"I will be ready to return if our country undergoes a regime change or if the two generals who instigated my prosecution either no longer have jobs or wind up in court."

He told another Moscow radio station that he feared prosecutors might file new charges against him were he to return.

Chichvarkin was initially accused of illegally importing 100 million dollars worth of mobile phones in 2005. The kidnapping charges came during a business dispute with one of his former employees.

© 2011 AFP

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