Kremlin turns up the heat on Russian tycoon Berezovsky

Jetting back into Moscow from abroad, Russia's one-time kingmaker, billionaire tycoon Boris Berezovsky, met with an unwelcome reminder of his precipitous fall from grace. Claiming he was forced at short notice to vacate his palatial home near the Russian capital, rented for several hundred thousand dollars a year from the state, he says he had to book into a hotel like an ordinary business traveller, AFP reports. The Kremlin's property manager, Vladimir Kozhin, denied the decision was political and insisted that Berezovsky had been granted four weeks to hand over the keys to the property three months ago. But Berezovsky, who pulled the levers of power under former president Boris Yeltsin, is the focus of a bid by the Kremlin to rid itself of a troublesome critic and political opponent, commentators say. The tycoon has accused President Vladimir Putin of hounding him using the threat of prosecution, after prosecutors grilled him about the alleged embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars from flag carrier Aeroflot. "The full responsibility for this political affair lies directly with the president. But as I have already said, I don't give into blackmail," he said Tuesday. Berezovsky, who claimed last month he was threatened with jail by the authorities if he did not relinquish his 49-percent holding in Russia's most popular television station ORT, was investigated once before in the Aeroflot case in 1999. But the case suddenly collapsed as Yeltsin fired left-leaning Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, accused by Berezovsky of being behind the prosecution. The Kremlin this time around is serving Berezovsky notice that he should quietly leave the country and drop his opposition to the new Putin regime, said Moscow commentator Yevgeny Volk. Volk said Berezovsky was in the same situation as Vladimir Gusinsky, the owner of the largest independent Russian media group, who has not returned to Russia since he was briefly jailed on fraud charges in June.