Nevzlin poses challenge to Leviev in Ukraine-Israel trade

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Russia is calling for his extradition to face fraud charges, but former so-called oligarch Leonid Nevzlin has other plans. The Russian-Israeli billionaire now living in Israel intends to set up a chamber of commerce linking the Ukraine and Israel, "to support the young European democracy," as he puts it. His intention, say those close to him, is not to frontally challenge diamond baron Lev Leviev, who already runs a chamber of commerce connecting the two countries.

Leonid Nevzlin

Nevzlin's sources denied meaning to compete with Leviev, saying the goal was to benefit Ukrainian democracy through trade.

Leviev's associates commented that the existing chamber of commerce is working perfectly well; but recent events led it to lower its profile, so it wouldn't be considered as wielding political influence.

"We welcome competition designed to promote trading relations between the Ukraine and Israel," Leviev's associate said, "but any new body will have to prove itself."

Leviev's cronies stressed that his activities in the Ukraine are not motivated by personal or commercial gain; they are purely philanthropic in nature. Among other things he has been responsible for building 25 schools, they said, adding, "We hope that the other activities are also being carried out for pure motives, not personal interests."

Nevzlin, 45, is one of the owners of Yukos, which the Russian government has stripped of assets in its fight against the former oil giant's shareholders. His fellow owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been sentenced to nine years' prison for fraud, tax evasion and related crimes, while Nevzlin fled to Israel and refuses to return to Russia.

Just yesterday the Russian Prosecutor General's Office petitioned Israel for Nevzlin's extradition, based on new materials delivered to Interpol. Russia is accusing Nevzlin of murder and attempted murder.

Israel has an extradition treaty with Russia but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that Nevzlin will not be sent back, for fear his trial would not be fair.

Nevzlin himself denies any wrong-doing and says the Kremlin is persecuting him for his opposition to president Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, MosNews reported this week that Khodorkovsky and his erstwhile partner Platon Lebedev will face new charges of money-laundering. Lawyers on Khodorkovsky's behalf say they do not know what the new charges will be, and Nevzlin has called them another fabrication, according to the website.

Source: Haaretz