Russia frees crime boss wanted by U.S.

MOSCOW Mon Jul 27, 2009 6:21am EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has released a suspected organized crime boss who is wanted by the United States for fraud and racketeering, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said on Monday.

Semion Mogilevich, who the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation says created a powerful crime group in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, was arrested in Russia in 2008 and accused of tax evasion at a major cosmetics retailer.

Mogilevich and alleged associate Vladimir Nekrasov were released because the terms under which they could be held had expired, said Irina Dudukina, a spokeswoman at the Interior Ministry's Investigative Committee.

The charges "are not of a particularly grave nature so investigators had no particular reason to keep them imprisoned," Dudukina said.

Mogilevich's lawyers have repeatedly said their client was innocent and denied any links to the cosmetics chain Arbat Prestige, where prosecutors said the tax evasion took place.

Dudukina said the case had not been dropped and would be sent to court on Monday or Tuesday after investigators had corrected a mistake that had delayed it.

The FBI says on its website that Mogilevich is wanted for racketeering, fraud and money laundering. Ukrainian-born Mogilevich has denied U.S. allegations that he is a crime boss.

Moscow has received an extradition request for Mogilevich from the United States, but has said it will not hand him over. Russia says its constitution does not allow the extradition of its citizens.

When Mogilevich was arrested, analysts said the real motive could be linked to accusations that he was involved in the multi-billion-dollar gas trade between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has accused Mogilevich of being behind RosUkrEnergo, an intermediary firm which sells gas to Ukraine. Mogilevich has previously denied through a lawyer any links to the firm.

(Reporting by Aydar Buribayev, Writing by Conor Humphries, editing by Ingrid Melander)

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