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Finland grants asylum to Russian opposition leader

The asylum application of Russian opposition leader Vasili Popov was considered by the Finnish immigration authorities for almost one year, and it ended in a positive decision. In Russia Popov is accused of fraud related to real estate transactions.

Vasili Popov Joensuussa helmikuussa 2016.
Vasili Popov in the Finnish city of Joensuu in February 2016 Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle

Petrozavodsk businessman and Karelian Republic opposition leader Vasili Popov has been granted political asylum in Finland. He confirmed his status to a reporter on the public broadcaster Yle’s Novosti Russian-language news team on Friday.

Before fleeing to Finland in the spring of 2015, Popov was a leader in the liberal Russian United Democratic Party known as Yabloko in the Karelian Republic, a federal subject of Russia. 

In August 2015, Yle reported that Russian authorities had declared Popov to be detained in absentia, as an international search warrant for his arrest was issued via the international police body Interpol. The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reported at the time that Popov was arrested by Finnish police from his Joensuu home at the request of Russian authorities.

In March 2016 Popov submitted an asylum claim after the supreme criminal court ruled he could be extradited to Russia to face charges.

Popov is one of the Karelian capital’s most successful businessmen and owns enterprises such as the Lentorg retail chain. He is charged with fraud in Russia, and Russian officials believe he is connected with organized crime.

Popov has denied all the charges against him in Russia and regards the extradition request as a politically-motivated witch hunt.

Last year the asylum applications of 194 Russian nationals were rejected in Finland and 61 were approved.

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