Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering prosecutors to grill him Tuesday about the alleged embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars from flag carrier Aeroflot.
The controversial businessman, who is currently at the centre of a bitter dispute with the Kremlin over ownership of Russia's most popular television station ORT, is thought to be a major shareholder in the national airline.
Summonsed to the general prosecutor's office, where he was questioned as a witness for two hours Tuesday, Berezovsky denounced the Aeroflot probe as "pure politics and pure blackmail, first from Primakov and now Putin."
Yevgeny Primakov, who was prime minister at the time, launched the criminal investigation into the Aeroflot case in January 1999.
Charges against Berezovsky were later dropped and the prosecutor formally closed the investigation into his alleged illegal business activities at Aeroflot.
Dressed casually in an open-necked shirt and leather jacket, Berezovsky told journalists after being questioned by investigator Alexander Filin that Putin had initiated moves to re-open the probe into his affairs.
"The full responsibility for this political affair lies directly with the president," the billionaire businessman said, adding: "But as I have already said, I don't give in to blackmail."
Berezovsky said he had told the investigator once again that he "did not work" for the company.
Former Aeroflot deputy boss Alexander Krasnenker, who has been charged in the money laundering case, arrived at the prosecutor's office shortly before Berezovsky, Interfax reported.
Last month, Swiss investigators handed over documents to their Russian counterparts linked to the Aeroflot case.
The embezzled Aeroflot cash is alleged to have transitted via Lausanne-based financial companies Forus and Andava, which were set up by Berezovsky to manage the airline's foreign currency funds, Swiss magistrates claim.
Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider during former president Boris Yeltsin's era, claimed last month he was threatened with jail by authorities if he did not relinquish his 49-percent holding in the state-run ORT channel.
He announced he was passing his ORT shares to a new trust company run by journalists, who would be free to return the stake to the government if they chose to do so.
Russian media reports have suggested that the Berezovsky ORT offer was a smokescreen designed to protect his business interests in the context of the investigation into financial irregularities at Aeroflot -- MOSCOW (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)