In a renewed attack on former Kremlin insiders, authorities in Russia issued an arrest warrant for tycoon Boris Berezovsky and charged railways minister Nikolai Aksyonenko, the state prosecutor said yesterday.
Berezovsky, who lives in self-imposed exile, will be arrested if he sets foot in Russia, said Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov.
The government of President Vladimir Putin has tried to distance itself from the corruption-tainted administration of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, and the cases against once-influential members of Yeltsin’s inner circle suggested a new move to deprive them of the remaining power.
Berezovsky is a harsh critic of Putin and has tried to rally opposition forces.
Aksyonenko, once so powerful that he came close to being nominated one of Yeltsin’s prime ministers, has become far less visible in the Putin Cabinet.
Putin demoted him from first deputy prime minister to railways minister, the post Aksyonenko held before his links with top power brokers led to his promotion to No 2 in the Cabinet.
Aksyonenko, a career railway official, was linked in the Russian media to Berezovsky, the subject of frequent accusations of corruption and political manipulation at the highest levels during the Yeltsin years.
But Ustinov, the state prosecutor, denied that there was a link between the two cases.
‘‘I cannot understand why some media outlets are linking these events,’’ he said, according to the Interfax news agency. Ustinov did not give details on the charges against Aksyonenko, but earlier reports said he was charged with misuse of funds.
Aksyonenko said he was questioned by prosecutors last Friday as a witness and only learned of the charges yesterday. He indicated that the charges were linked to the £300m in ministry taxes allegedly unpaid for 2000 and called them an attempt to stop railway reform.
The case against Berezovsky stems from the Russian authorities’ suspicions that executives at the Aeroflot airline have funnelled millions of dollars in revenue to two Swiss firms founded by Berezovsky, Forus and Andava.
Berezovsky’s lawyer Semyon Aria said the charges were ‘‘very strange’’ since Berezovsky was not accused of actually taking any money but of helping with the alleged embezzlement scheme and participating in money-laundering.
He said authorities suspect Berezovsky of helping several acquaintances get top jobs at Aeroflot, Interfax reported. Two of the airline’s deputy directors said to be linked to Berezovsky have been charged with embezzlement and money-laundering.
Aria said the authorities brought such charges because they could not prove that Berezovsky was involved in Aeroflot affairs yet wanted to ‘‘bar a political opponents from returning to the country’’.
Berezovsky, one of Russia’s so-called oligarchs, has lived abroad in recent months, reportedly in southern Europe. Berezovsky says the charges against him are politically motivated.