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RUSSIA

Latvia Police Say Blood Is Rozhetskin's

The investigation into the disappearance of Russian-born American businessman Leonid Rozhetskin took a grim turn Tuesday as Latvian police confirmed that blood found at the entrepreneur's villa was his own.

Rozhetskin, who made headlines in a long-running legal battle over a stake in mobile phone operator MegaFon, disappeared from his luxury home in Jurmala, a resort town 30 kilometers from Riga, on March 16.

Dailis Luks, head of Latvia's central criminal police department, confirmed by telephone Tuesday from Riga that analyses by specialists over the past week had proved that blood found at the house was Rozhetskin's.

"Murder is one of the possibilities that we are considering," Luks said. No body had yet been found, however, and no versions of his disappearance were being ruled out as the Latvian police continued their search for Rozhetskin, Luks said.

Despite previous reports that only spots of blood had been discovered at the scene, a source familiar with the situation said considerable quantities had been found.

A local investigator played down this suggestion, however.

"Only a moderate amount of blood was found -- it is difficult to define whether there were spots or drops," Evita Spalvena, head of Jurmala's criminal police unit, said by telephone Tuesday.

"We are currently considering other possible versions," Spalvena said. "He could be in hiding somewhere."

She did not rule out that Rozhetskin might have been the victim of a contract killing.

The Latvian police also confirmed that two men who had caught a taxi after leaving Rozhetskin's luxury home early Sunday morning had been officially questioned.

The two men are not, however, currently suspects in Rozhetskin's disappearance, Spalvena said. She refused to comment further on the men's identities.

Citing the taxi driver that picked them up, the local Russian-language newspaper, Telegraf, reported that two men left Rozhetskin's villa at 2:30 a.m. Sunday and were driven to one of Riga's largest gay bars, XXL.

The unidentified taxi driver said the lights in Rozhetskin's house had been on as the men left and everything seemed in order.

Rozhetskin is married to former model Natalya Belova and has a 3-year-old son. He has homes in Los Angeles and Latvia and has recently been splitting his time between the United States and London. Reports said he had stayed at London's Dorchester Hotel before heading for Riga on March 15.

A criminal investigation was opened into Rozhetskin's disappearance after Latvian police found his sport utility vehicle abandoned five kilometers from his house on March 17, Spalvena said.

Rozhetskin had traveled to Riga on his private jet for the weekend. The same jet left Riga for Vienna the evening after his disappearance with no passengers on board, Riga airport spokesman Martins Langrats said.

Jurmala criminal police unit head Spalvena said the plane had left with only the two pilots on board. She refused to comment on why the plane had left without any passengers and a reduced crew.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Riga said he could not comment on Rozhetskin's disappearance.

The Harvard-educated Rozhetskin, 41, was born in Leningrad in 1966 and moved to the United States in 1980 with his family, according to his personal web site. He returned to Russia in 1992 to set up a law firm.

He later turned his attention to the financial sector, co-founding Renaissance Capital and LV Finance, a venture capital firm.

From 2001 to 2005, Rozhetskin served as the executive vice chairman of Norilsk Nickel.
Rozhetskin hit the headlines in 2003 after LV Finance was accused of going back on an agreement to sell a 25 percent stake in mobile phone operator MegaFon to Bermuda-based investment fund IPOC. Alfa Group eventually managed to buy the stake.

A three-judge private commercial tribunal in Zurich concluded in 2006 that IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman was IPOC's beneficial owner. Reiman has repeatedly denied any links to the company.

An arrest warrant issued for Rozhetskin in 2006 by Russian prosecutors in connection with the case was withdrawn "several months ago" by the Russian government, a spokeswoman for Rozhetskin said. Despite this, Rozhetskin has not visited Russia for several years, although his wife still visits her relatives in the country, an acquaintance familiar with the situation said.

Despite the fact the conflict was resolved after the Bermuda High Court validated a master agreement between LV Finance and IPOC last year, putting an end to international litigation, Rozhetskin still seems to have an ongoing court case against Reiman in the United States, accusing him of extortion, intimidation and abuse of office.

In an 18-page complaint filed in New York's Southern District Court in September 2006, Rozhetskin alleged that he had been personally threatened by "agents" working for Reiman in early 2001 as they tried to get him to sell LV Finance's stake in MegaFon.

"The message was clear: Transfer ownership to Reiman or suffer the consequences of physical violence or incarceration, or both," the complaint reads.

Danish lawyer Jeffrey Galmond, who is cited in the complaint as Reiman's "front man," did not respond to written questions Tuesday.

Galmond has previously claimed to be the owner of IPOC and also denies Reiman's involvement with the firm. Rozhetskin's complaint came in response to a racketeering suit filed by IPOC against him and Alfa Group in the same New York court in June 2006.

Although Rozhetskin had employed bodyguards at the height of the wrangle over the MegaFon stake, a source familiar with the situation said he had gradually relaxed his security over the past few years.

A lawyer for Rozhetskin did not respond to written questions on the matter, but a spokeswoman said there had been no change in the status of any pending litigation.

"All of the relevant courts have been informed of Leonid's disappearance, and the courts are considering what, if anything, to do," said Amy Weiss, a Washington-based spokeswoman for Rozhetskin.

Over the past few years, Rozhetskin has increasingly turned his attention toward businesses in Western Europe and the United States.

Last year, he teamed up with Eric Eisner, son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, to form the movie production company L+E Productions.

The company's first film, Hamlet 2, a high school comedy starring British actor Steve Coogan, premiered at this year's Sundance Film festival to positive reviews. The firm's next project is set to be a film about the Russian mafia, called Three Wolves.

L+E Productions did not answer requests for an interview or respond to e-mailed questions sent Monday.

Three years ago, Rozhetskin teamed up with two Dutch businessmen, including Moscow Times founder Derk Sauer, to launch a London-based free business newspaper, City AM.
In the early 1990s, Rozhetskin contributed to The Moscow Times as a columnist and has also done legal work for the newspaper.

Jens Torpe, managing director at City AM, said he had not had any contact with Rozhetskin since a board meeting last December and that Rozhetskin was not involved in the day-to-day running of the company.

Described by acquaintances and the press as "flamboyant," Rozhetskin hosts the extravagant annual Bal des Fleurs event in Monte Carlo.

Bal des Fleurs organizer Andrei Fomin, who has been cited as a spokesman and friend of Rozhetskin's in the British press, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A man who answered the telephone at his office said planning for this year's ball was still under way.

(The Moscow Times 26.iii.08)