Russian ex-tycoon protests outside London forum

Wed Jun 1, 2011 11:06am EDT

* Mobile phone mogul leads protest on investment risks

* Tycoon lives in London after losing assets, fleeing Russia

By Katya Golubkova

LONDON, June 1 (Reuters) - A Russian businessman who fled to Britain after losing his assets staged a protest in London on Wednesday to draw attention to the risks of investing in Russia.

Yevgeny Chichvarkin, who co-founded one of Russia's biggest mobile phone companies, protested outside a state-sponsored Russian investment forum in a T-shirt showing his face above the slogan 'Russia Calling?' -- a play on the forum's slogan.

The fate of businessmen who have fallen foul of the Russian authorities and lost their businesses, often on charges of tax evasion or corruption, has tarnished Russia's reputation among foreign investors.

"They (investors) think that if they agree on something with some of the corrupt officials, their business is secure", he said. "Investors who bought Yukos shares also thought that, until they earned 'zero'."

He was referring to the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former owner of the Yukos oil company, who has been in jail since 2003 on charges of tax evasion and fraud.

Yukos was bankrupted by back-tax claims and its assets were sold off, but Europe's human rights court said on Tuesday it had found no firm proof that the case was politically motivated. [nLDE74U12D]

Chichvarkin was joined by about 10 supporters, some of thwem in similar T-shirts but with photos of Khodorkovsky and Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail in 2009 after accusing high-profile police officers of graft.

Chichvarkin fled to Britain in 2008 saying he could be killed if jailed in Russia, where he faced charges of extortion and kidnapping. He said the charges were politically motivated.

In September, a British court delayed a hearing into Russia's request to extradite Chichvarkin. He said at the time Russian authorities had dropped their criminal case but that he would not return to Russia, fearing new charges.

Chichvarkin reiterated on Wednesday that he would not return to Russia until it held what he called genuinely free elections.

Russia is perceived as the most corrupt country in the Group of 20 developed and emerging economies by Berlin-based Transparency International, which places it on a par with Cambodia and Kenya.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon)

((ekaterina.golubkova@reuters.com, +7 495 775 1242)) Keywords: RUSSIA BUSINESSMAN/PROTEST

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