MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian banker accused of fraud said Friday he has been granted asylum in Britain to protect him from "baseless" politically motivated charges in Russia.
Former Bank of Moscow head Andrei Borodin told Russian media that he had convinced British authorities that charges he faces in Russia are politically motivated persecution launched by Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
He fled to London in 2011 to avoid the charges stemming from the bank's $14 billion bailout after it was taken over by state-run VTB. British authorities denied him and his deputy political asylum in May last year, but he appealed.
"I have always maintained that the allegation made against me and the charges brought by the Russian Federation are without foundation and are politically motivated," he said in a statement. The granting of refugee status shows that Britain recognizes the charges "are baseless and without merit," he said.
A spokesman said Borodin was not immediately available for further comment. Britain's Home Office, which handles immigration and asylum issues, said that it could not comment on individual cases.
In August, Interpol issued a Red Notice, the equivalent of an international arrest warrant, for Borodin at Russia's request. Russian authorities said Friday they would continue to seek Borodin's extradition.
Natalia Timakova, Medvedev's press secretary, told the Vedomosti business daily that the decision was the result of Britain's "clumsy mechanism" of an asylum process, which she said depended solely on "declaring political persecution as loudly as possible."
Tensions between Britain and the Kremlin have flared in recent years after controversial Russians including Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev and disgraced former oligarch Boris Berezovsky were granted asylum.
Moscow's former mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who enjoyed an exceptionally cozy relationship with the bank when he ran the city as a personal fiefdom for the better part of two decades, welcomed the decision as part of "the defense of a respectable banker" from "unfounded accusations."
Luzhkov, who has spent much of his time outside Russia since Medvedev fired him in 2010 amid accusations of vast corruption, said on Kommersant FM radio that the charges against Borodin were a way of attacking him vicariously.
Borodin is accused of transferring $443 million in loans to shell companies that then gave the money to Luzkhov's wife, former construction magnate Elena Baturina. Baturina, Russia's richest woman while Luzhkov was mayor, was notorious for receiving highly favorable contracts from Moscow city authorities and buying and selling city land on extremely advantageous terms.
Borodin is also accused of improperly selling shares in an insurance group to deny Moscow authorities control of the bank and embezzling the money through offshore companies.
Borodin told Vedomosti he was forced out of Bank of Moscow to turn it into a "pension fund" and "future financial empire" for Medvedev. The government, meanwhile, has portrayed Borodin as a shadowy figure attempting to manipulate Russian politics from afar.
Kremlin-friendly TV ran a documentary-style film with grainy hidden camera footage in October alleging that Borodin planned to pay leftist activists $50 million through a Georgian politician to stage massive nationwide riots and terrorist attacks throughout Russia aimed at overthrowing the government. Borodin is one of only two of the alleged participants not to have been charged in that case. Rights groups have decried the case as part of a crackdown on dissent in Russia.
Raphael Satter contributed reporting from London.