Moscow Releases Mogilevich

A Moscow court has released a man suspected of being an organized crime boss and who is wanted in the United States, 18 months after he was arrested for alleged tax evasion. 

Semyon Mogilevich, wanted by the FBI for alleged racketeering and fraud, was released after making an oath not to flee, the Interior Ministry told Reuters. His alleged business partner Vladimir Nekrasov, also facing tax evasion charges, was also released.

Nekrasov, the owner of what was once Russia’s largest cosmetics retail chain, Arbat Prestige, stands accused of evading $1.5 million in taxes. Mogilevich, accused of being his consultant in the evasion, is charged with masterminding the tax evasion scheme. Both Mogilevich and Nekrasov maintain their innocence.

Mogilevich’s lawyer in Israel, Neev Gordon, said his client was released because the court could no longer legally detain him. “I spoke with him on Friday after he was released. He is happy to be home,” Gordon told the Financial Times. “There is no evidence against him.” Gordon also said the court had sent the case back to investigators, saying the case needed more work.

Release Reported as Unusual

Mogilevich’s release has been reported as unusual in Russia, which has a justice system that does not usually balk at extending pre-trial detentions far past the one-year deadline. Former Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for example, has spent two and a half years in detention since fresh charges were brought against him in February 2007.

The Ukrainian-born Mogilevich has been on the FBI’s most wanted list since 2003, accused of manipulating the stock of a Pennsylvania-based company that collapsed in 1998. In 2005, FBI chief Robert Mueller accused Mogilevich of masterminding a crime ring that trafficked drugs and weapons, as well as running prostitution and money laundering rackets.

Mogilevich has denied any wrongdoing. He lived openly in Moscow until his arrest by armed commandos in January 2008. Observers have suggested that his arrest was in fact linked to accusations that Mogilevich was involved in the lucrative Russia-Ukraine gas trade. Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has in the past accused Mogilevich of running RosUkrEnergo, a middle-man firm that sells gas to Ukraine; Mogilevich has denied any links to the company.

-- Beth Kampschror