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Russians' former atomic chief arrested, faces charges in US

BERN, Switzerland -- Swiss police have arrested former Russian atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov, who is wanted by the United States for alleged fraud, the Justice Ministry said yesterday.

Adamov was detained on Monday in the Swiss capital, and told a Swiss court yesterday he intended to fight a US request for his extradition, ministry spokesman Folco Galli said.

Washington, which suspects him of involvement in fraud worth up to $10 million, now has 60 days to present a formal extradition request, after which a Swiss court will decide what to do with him. The process can take several months, Galli said.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said Adamov was in Switzerland to attend a court case related to his daughter's financial activities.

Adamov was a minister in Boris Yeltsin's administration but was ousted, after a probe into his ties to Russian businessmen, by Vladimir Putin, who came to power in 2000 promising to fight corruption.

US prosecutors accuse Adamov, 65, of stealing money sent by Washington to boost security at dozens of nuclear sites scattered across Russia, which is under pressure to do more to prevent sensitive materials from falling into extremists' hands.

A Washington-based lawyer for Adamov, Lanny Breuer, said Adamov had admitted depositing the money in a personal account, but said the Russian paid for the scientists and security programs from his own accounts in Russia.

''Yes, these monies did go into his personal accounts," said Breuer, adding that what Adamov did -- keeping dollar accounts outside Russia and spending money from accounts inside the country -- was normal in Russia, and the former Soviet Union, to avoid ''hypertaxation and problems with organized crime."

He had urged US investigators to visit Russia to confirm that the money sent from the United States had been spent. But they did not go, Breuer said.

Before running the energy ministry, Adamov headed the NIKIET nuclear research institute in Moscow, which was at the center of various high-profile Soviet-era atomic projects.

The United States imposed economic sanctions on NIKIET in the late 1990s because it suspected the institute was involved in helping Iran acquire technology related to heavy-water reactors. Adamov has always denied this, and the sanctions were lifted last year.

The Russian Atomic Energy Agency, headed by Adamov's successor Alexander Rumyantsev, distanced itself from the case.

''Adamov has been presented with complaints related to a number of contracts carried out on a commercial basis," the agency said in a statement. ''The complaints are not connected to . . . Adamov's activities during his work as a minister."

Adamov's term as atomic energy minister was marked by his resolve to push ahead with construction of a nuclear reactor in Iran which Washington says Tehran could use to acquire nuclear weapons -- something Russia and Iran have always denied.

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