A Moscow court on Monday issued an arrest warrant in absentia for the biggest foreign investor in Russia in the past decade, whose lawyer died in detention after revealing a massive fraud scheme.
US-born Bill Browder and his Hermitage Capital hedge fund have been charged with illegally acquiring $70 million worth of stock in energy giant Gazprom.
Browder and his lawyer -- the late Sergei Magnitsky -- both also stand accused of tax evasion in a case that has created deep tensions between Moscow and Washington and resulted in the issuing of tit-for-tat blacklists by the two former Cold War foes.
Hermitage Capital said this was only the second time Russia has issued an international arrest warrant for a foreigner.
The RAPSI legal news agency reported from the Moscow court room that a judge accepted a request from investigators to issue an international arrest warrant for Browder in connection with his Gazprom acquisition.
The warrant will have little direct effect on either Browder or his business activities. Hermitage Capital's operations in Russia have been pared to a minimum after Browder was barred from entering the country without a formal explanation in 2006 and moved to London.
Britain has shown little inclination to arrest businessmen at Moscow's behest in the past.
But Hermitage Capital said the warrant highlighted the Russian state's desire to put Browder behind bars and thus deflect attention from what the firm alleges was huge fraud perpetrated by Moscow tax inspectors and police.
"Clearly, the investigative authorities intend to benefit from the court's decision to issue an arrest warrant in absentia," a company representative said in a statement.
It further noted that Browder's acquisition of Gazprom stock was entirely legal and in line with how business was being conducted at the time.
Lawyer Magnitsky died of untreated illnesses in detention at the age of 37 in 2009 less than a year after he was charged by the very same officials he had accused of organising the fraud scheme.
Browder insists Magnitsky was tortured to death with beatings and the refusal of proper medical care.