Russia Tries to Prevent Former Nuclear Minister's Extradition to US

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Russian prosecutors have asked the Swiss government to extradite Moscow's former top nuclear official to face criminal charges, in what is widely seen as a bid to prevent him from being sent to the U.S. instead.

Former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov was arrested in Switzerland early this month in response to a request by the U.S. Justice Department. He is accused of embezzling up to $9 million provided by the U.S. Energy Department for Russia to improve security at its nuclear facilities.

Some Russian politicians have expressed suspicions that the real reason the U.S. wants access to Adamov is to grill him on state secrets - specifically on information relating to Moscow's nuclear ties with Iran.

Just a few days ago, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office said it had no case against Adamov, but on Thursday it announced it had officially requested his extradition to face fraud charges at home.

Separately, Russia's foreign ministry also urged Switzerland not to accede to America's "unacceptable" extradition request without Moscow's consent.

It said in a statement Adamov's detention violated international law and that his extradition to a third country could harm Russia's national security.

Russia's Embassy in Bern also has asked Swiss authorities to release Adamov on bail.

Lawyers for the former nuclear official said that they were appealing against his detention.

Media commentators here responded skeptically to the latest twist in the story.

"[Has] Russia made up a case against Adamov to save him from U.S. jail?" asked Novye Izvestia, a liberal daily., an online news service, suggested tongue-in-cheek that the Kremlin appoint Adamov a minister or ambassador to Switzerland, to provide him with diplomatic immunity that would block his extradition to the U.S.

Adamov, a nuclear physicist by training, was appointed atomic energy minister by then President Boris Yeltsin in March 1998, and held the post until fired by President Vladimir Putin in 2001. During his tenure, he rejected U.S. objections to Russia's assistance to the Iranians' nuclear program.

Lawmakers for the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) have been spearheading demands for Adamov's return.

One of them, Alexei Mitrofanov, told the Duma it should appeal to prosecutors to act because Adamov was one of a handful of people who were familiar with top-secret information, including information relating to Russia's construction of a nuclear reactor in Bushehr, Iran.

In televised remarks another LDRR deputy, Sergei Abeltsev, made the bizarre suggestion that, if it was impossible to have Adamov brought back to Russia, then the government should send special service agents to liquidate him in Switzerland.

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