LONDON — A Greek prosecutor ordered former Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky to be held in jail Monday pending a decision on his extradition to Russia on suspicion of a $250 million fraud.
Gusinsky, who lives in self-imposed exile in Israel and holds both Russian and Israeli passports, was detained Thursday at Athens airport upon his arrival on a flight from Tel Aviv.
His arrest came as a surprise: The tycoon has traveled freely around Europe since skipping Russia in 2000 following the charges, which he says are politically motivated.
Gusinsky was detained in Spain in 2001 when Russia asked for his extradition. But embarrassed Madrid authorities ruled that the matter was political and refused Moscow’s request.
Last week, however, Greek officials found his name on their computer files when he showed his passport. Interpol headquarters in France said that no warrant existed, but its Moscow branch confirmed that Gusinsky was still wanted on embezzlement charges.
The millionaire could face weeks in jail before the case is considered by Greece’s top court of appeal.
Gusinsky was once Russia’s most powerful media owner with holdings including commercial station NTV as well as a range of radio, print and other interests through his Media-Most empire.
NTV was frequently critical of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, which may have sparked the Kremlin campaign against Gusinsky.
He lost control of Media-Most after prosecutors mounted a legal offensive against him and his senior managers in 2000. He was charged with embezzlement of state property at a St. Petersburg TV company and misuse of a $250 million loan from state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, which later took over NTV in a boardroom coup.
He owns one Russian weekly news magazine, and a Russian-language international news channel, as well as publishing interests in Israel.
The developments, which look set to embarrass Greece and complicate Russia’s relations with other European Union members, come after months in which Putin’s Kremlin administration has put pressure on Russian businessmen in advance of parliamentary and presidential elections.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)