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Exiled Oil Boss Gutseriyev Returns to Russia

Russneft founder and Russian billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev. Gutseriyev just returned to Ingushetia after exile in London. S. Porter

Mikhail Gutseriyev, founder of the Russneft oil company, returned to Russia on Friday after living abroad in exile for more than two years to escape criminal charges, which have since been dropped.

A spokesman for Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said Gutseriyev had arrived back in his homeland and would meet Yevkurov after the extended Victory Day holiday weekend.

"He spoke by phone to the president, and they agreed to meet up after the holidays," spokesman Khalid Tankiyev said.

The rehabilitation of Gutseriyev in the eyes of the authorities appears to be linked to the role the billionaire might play in calming tensions in the North Caucasus.

Yevkurov told Ekho Moskvy radio that he hoped Gutseriyev would be able to help Ingushetia.

"I hope we will find a common language with him and will help each other. … He is gifted by God as a manager and businessman. … I hope his abilities and these qualities will help attract some investment to the republic," he said.

Ingushetia has recently seen an uprising of violence by militant Islamists fighting against Moscow-backed local authorities.

Gutseriyev fled in 2007 after being accused of tax fraud and seeing his son die under mysterious circumstances.

Investigators removed Gutseriyev from an international wanted list in November in a move many analysts interpreted as a precursor to his return. Last month, the criminal case against him was dropped.

A source close to Gutseriyev said the businessman's long-term plans were to stay in Russia.

"It is a private visit. He has been away from his motherland for quite long and wants to see his son's and parents' graves," the source said. "He plans to live and work in Russia."

In January, ownership of Russneft reverted back to Gutseriyev.

The Washington-based Jamestown Foundation said late last month that Moscow wanted help from Gutseriyev to pacify the republic.

"One such method could be using Mikhail Gutseriyev's money and expertise to invest in and develop the region," it said.

"Apparently, Moscow is so desperate that it even pressed Russian rivals of Gutseriyev to relinquish control over his assets to lure him back into the country," it said.

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