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SPECIAL REPORT: UK is protecting wanted Russian 'criminals' who face losing property includi

HAPPIER TIMES: Vladimir Putin honours Mr Bedzhamov for success at Sochi two years before he left Russia

Super rich Russians have faced extradition requests and freezing orders against luxury homes in an apparent Kremlin crackdown on "wanted" tycoons seeking refuge in the UK.

Three former Russian elites and their wives have been hit with civil claims to strip them of assets, including luxury London apartments, a Surrey mansion and a multi-million castle in Kent.

Banker Georgy Bedzhamov, 55, a former shareholder of Vneshprombank, is the latest to face an extradition request in connection with one of the federation's biggest ever alleged banking frauds.

Earlier this month Emma Arbuthnot, senior district judge at Westminster Magistrates Court, refused an extradition request from Moscow for another banker Ilya Yurov.

It was on grounds the request was politically motivated, despite her acceptance there was a "strong fraud case" against him in connection with another alleged huge banking scam.

Earlier this year she discharged an extradition request for Nikolay Fetisov, an alleged co-conspirator of Mr Yurov, after Russian officials failed in time to provide assurances over prison conditions.

WANTED: Ilay Yurov is wanted back in Russia on charges of fraud

Russian prosecutors allege the pair and Sergey Belyaev, who together owned 98 per cent of shares in the National Bank Trust, ran it as a Ponzi Scheme by using customer deposits to fund personal business ventures, funnelling profits if successful into offshore companies, but letting the bank take any losses.

They fled to the UK after the bank needed an around £770 million bailout.

Despite Mr Yurov and Mr Fetisov avoiding extradition the pair, and Mr Belyaev, could still lose properties that were separately purchased in the names of their wives.

Mr Yurov's wife Nataliya Yurova, 48, is the registered owner of the refurbished Oxney Court castle near Dover and Mr Fetisov's wife, Elena Pishchulina, 46, has a Surrey mansion.

Neither property is mortgaged.

Mrs Yurova paid £4.1 million for the castle in 2012.

Surrounded by 35 acres, it was a ruin, but now refurbished will be worth significantly more.

CASTLE: Oxney Court was bought by Mrs Yurova in 2012

She also has three London apartments and a Cyprus property.

Mrs Pishchulina is owner of the Leatherhead mansion that has six bedrooms, a swimming pool and cinema, and cost £4.2 million in 2012.

Her other assets include a Chelsea apartment, a Moscow country house and a Bali property.

The bank has applied to the High Court to transfer the properties into the husbands' names so it can pursue them to recover money.

Freezing orders totalling around £637 million against the properties, including others owned by Mr Belyaev's wife Irina Belyaeva, were continued last week.

Judge Stephen Males had earlier called the actions of the former owners of the bank as a "Ponzi scheme with a fancy name".

All those facing extradition are understood to fear their lives could be in danger if they return to Russia.

KILLED: Sergei Magnitsky was killed in a Russian prison after exposing Kremlin-linked fraud

During Mr Yurov's extradition hearing it emerged he would have likely been held in Moscow Central prison, said to be run "de facto by the FSB and reserved for "high profile prisoners of interest to the Kremlin".

Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, 37, was imprisoned there after exposing a multi-million pound alleged tax fraud linked to the Kremlin and then beaten to death by prison guards in 2009.

The civil action against Mr Yurov mirrors that taken by Aeroflot against former director Nikolai Glushkov, 68, who fled to the UK after being charged with fraud against the company totalling around £76 million.

He was found murdered in his home in New Malden, south London, on March 12, the night before he was due in the High Court in connection with the case.

His death, which remains unsolved, was just a week after the failed assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, which the British Government says was ordered by the Kremlin.

Closing the case after his death, Judge Vivien Rose said it was a "politically-motivated case pursued by the Kremlin."

In February Mr Yurov was one of a number of exiled businessmen who met with Boris Titov, the Kremlin’s commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights, as part of a bid to get them to agree to return under an amnesty.

He said following the meeting: "Nobody can give me a total guarantee of safety in Russia.”

DISCHARGED: Judge Emma Arbuthnot said no to Mr Yurov's extradition

Despite seeing evidence from the civil case that Mr Yurov had likely been dishonest, Judge Arbuthnot ruled this month he was unlikely to get a fair trial because of his links to two major Kremlin critics who were previously prosecuted.

Mr Yurov's solicitor Kate Goold said: "Mr Yurov vehemently denies the allegations against him but it would be inappropriate to comment further as he is in the middle of civil proceedings.

"The CPS who act for the Russian Judicial Authority confirmed this week that they would not appeal the discharge of the extradition warrant.

"Recent events in Salisbury clearly weighed heavily on the Chief magistrate's decision thus illustrating that there are consequences in the UK courts as well as diplomatically, to the Russian State's actions."

Mr Yurov said: "I am relieved by this decision but am fully aware that this is not the end of the fight for me and many others in a similar position.

"I am grateful for the Justice I have received to date and regret that such Justice is not available in my home country."

Four years ago Mr Bedzhamov was head of Russia’s bobsleigh federation and pictured with President Vladimir Putin when he was honoured following the team's success at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

CHARGED: Georgy Bedzhamov is fighting his extradition to Russia

In 2016 he fled to Monaco after the collapse of Vneshprombank.

He is charged by Russian prosecutors with a conspiracy with sister Larisa Markus, Vneshprombank's former president, and others to commit fraud by abuse of position.

It is alleged he stole from the accounts, fabricated documents and concealed criminal property.

At a hearing this month, after £250,000 surety was paid, he was bailed until next year.

Last May Ms Markus was sentenced to nine years in jail after admitting a fraud worth around of £1.5bn in connection with the case.

Mr Bedzhamov was arrested in Monaco, where he had owned a £76 million superyacht called Ester III and, in April 2016, but later released after extradition was declined.

SOLD: Mr Bedzhamov owned a £76 million superyacht called Ester III

He is understood to deny the allegations, but declined to comment or answer questions about his wealth.

The chilling alleged manipulation of the Russian judicial system by one of Russia's most powerful oligarchs is laid bare in recent extradition judgements.

Igor Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil company, features in a number of judgements.

Extraditions to Russia have been rejected amid concerns Mr Sechin, seen as Vladimir Putin's de facto right hand man, can influence the prosecution system to use criminal charges to take out opponents.

Claims were detailed in an earlier judgement by Judge Arbuthnot when she rejected the extradition to Russia of Andrey Votinov, a former director of Rosneft in June.

NUMBER 2: Igor Sechin (left) with President Vladimir Putin

Richard Sakwa, a Professor of Russian and European politics, told the hearing it was widely believed Mr Sechin, 58, had set up Russia’s former finance minister, Alexei Ulyukayev, in 2016 by giving him a locked bag containing about £1.5 million during a meeting before he was caught with it by security officers.

Mr Sechin then snubbed four orders to appear for cross examination during the trial. Mr Ulyukayev was found guilty and sentenced to eight years in Moscow Central prison and fined £1.5 million last year.

Mrs Arbuthnot wrote: "Professor Sakwa was able to say that Igor Sechin was behind the prosecution.

JAILED: Judge Arbuthnot said Igor Sechin was behind the prosecution of Alexei Ulyukayev

"He is part of the Siloviki who are a powerful caste who have taken on the role to defend the state. He said that they have suborned the judicial system.

Mr Votinov is charged with fraud in connection with the rental of an office building.

Mr Sakwa told the court there are "prosecutions to order - false allegations aimed at owners of a company, made to get the assets."

The court also heard from Alexander Yarchuk, who was facing an extradition request from Russia in Austria after being charged in connection with Mr Votinov.

He said that in Russia commercial transactions were regularly transformed into criminal allegations so Rosneft could avoid paying debts.

The court was given a transcript of an alleged recording made during a meeting between

Rosneft and Mr Yarchuck's firm Graviton, which was owed money by the former which wanted a reduction.

Mrs Arbuthnot wrote: "The Rosneft head of department says that if Mr Sechin gives the order 'they will find a way to get everyone'.

SAVED: Emma Arbuthnot said the prosecution of Mr Votinov was politically motivated

"Referring to Mr Yarchuck he says that just because he has hidden himself in Europe, does he think that 'no body is going to find him'.

"He speaks about appropriate orders 'will be given to the appropriate security structures'."

Mrs Arbuthnot concluded: "I accept that there is evidence that in the past Mr Sechin has been involved in corporate raiding.

"I accepted the evidence that 'the ethos of achieving commercial, personal and political aims through a blatant manipulation of the Russian legal system is deeply imbued in the culture of the high echelons of Rosneft."

She refused the extradition, saying Mr Votinov had no chance of a fair trial in Russia. During Ilay Yurov's hearing academic Dr David Lewis said the FSB, who Mr Sechin is "close to" were alarmingly involved in the prosecution. He described a shadowy world where decision are based on political influence over police and prosecutions with normal business dealing sometimes criminalised. He said Mr Sechin got Rosneft to take over rival oil firm Yukos and other companies with threat of prosecutions to get company assets below market price.

The Russian Embassy said it does not comment on extradition requests.

However, in March 2017 it published a press release highly critical of the UK's position with a list of 22 wanted people topped by Mr Glushkov.

MURDERED: Mr Glushkov was murdered the night before he was due in court over Russian fraud charge

It said: "Great Britain de facto harbours quite a few Russian citizens who face charges in Russia for committing criminal offences such as fraud on a large scale, embezzlement, misappropriation of large amounts of money, robbery, murder.

"It never fails to amaze us that the Russian citizens who fled to the UK as fugitives, while here become British subjects. Once with a legal status, such individuals can also legalize funds acquired by criminal methods."

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