Israel responded coolly Tuesday to a broad hint by Russia that it wants to extradite Leonid Nevzlin, one of the owners of the Yukos oil company, who immigrated to Israel two years go.
Russia first requested Nevzlin's extradition in April, accusing him of having commissioned the murder of a rival businessman. On Tuesday, at a press conference in Moscow, Russia's deputy state prosecutor, Vladimir Kolesnikov, said the prosecution recently received new information indicating that Nevzlin was also involved in the killing of "a long list" of other people between 1998 and 2002, including ordering the killing of a Siberian mayor in 1998.
He added: "The prosecution hopes Nevzlin will be extradited, will present himself to the Russian justice system and accept just punishment for his actions."
The foreign and justice ministries declined to comment officially on the prosecutor's statement. However, not for attribution, Israeli officials noted that the accusation against Nevzlin comes just a week after Russia's prosecution closed an investigation into alleged racism in the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, a classic compilation of Jewish law.
"The prosecution's behavior strengthens the impression that the Russians are deliberately playing the anti-Semitism card against Russian Jews to pressure Israel into extraditing Jews from here," said one.
The juxtaposition of the two events, he added, "merely casts anti-Semitism in Russia in an even more repulsive light in Israel's eyes."
A spokesman for Nevzlin noted that Amnesty International, the European Parliament and a British court had all found that Russian President Vladimir Putin was engaging in political persecution of Yukos' owners because they supported democratic opposition parties.
"Putin does not hesitate to employ the Russian authorities subordinate to him to invent false accusations - in the best tradition of the KGB, where Putin grew up," the spokesman added.
Nevzlin and two of his partners in Yukos moved to Israel two years ago following the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the company's CEO, who was recently convicted of tax evasion. Since his arrival, Nevzlin has engaged in both business and philanthropy, donating money to, among others, the Diaspora Museum and Hebrew University.