GENEVA – Switzerland (search) decided Monday to extradite the Kremlin's former nuclear minister to the United States to face charges of stealing up to $9 million intended to improve nuclear security in Russia.
Moscow had hoped to try Yevgeny Adamov (search) itself rather than risk his revealing nuclear secrets to the United States, and the Swiss decision set off high-level protests in Russia.
Switzerland's Justice Ministry ruled that Adamov must first face charges in U.S. courts, where he has been indicted on charges of conspiracy to transfer stolen money and securities, conspiracy to defraud the United States, money laundering and tax evasion.
"Had priority been given to Russia, Adamov's Russian citizenship would have meant that he could not subsequently have been extradited onward to the USA," the ministry said in a statement. "This would have resulted in an unacceptable failing of the prosecution process."
Adamov, who has accepted extradition to his native land, has 30 days to file an appeal with the Swiss supreme court. Adamov's lawyer, Stefan Wehrenberg, told The Associated Press the Russian was still deliberating whether to appeal.
"The priority should have been to extradite him to Russia," Wehrenberg said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry (search) condemned the decision, saying Adamov should have been returned home since he is a Russian citizen and has immunity as a former Cabinet minister.
"This decision causes bewilderment," a ministry statement said. "Moscow is concerned about the fact that the (Swiss) Justice Ministry has made a decision that contradicts legal norms and objective circumstances."
Russian officials across the political spectrum accused Switzerland and the United States of acting out of political motivations.
"Adamov is one of the few bearers of really important and secret state information," Dmitry Rogozin (search), leader of the nationalist Homeland party, told the AP. "His arrest and extradition to the United States are rooted not only in banal theft accusations, but in the U.S. desire to get information on the state of the Russian nuclear shield."
Earlier in the day, Adamov began a hunger strike apparently to press for extradition to Russia, but by early afternoon it was apparently over.
"I saw him eating lunch," Wehrenberg said.
Swiss authorities arrested Adamov on a U.S. warrant May 2, while he was visiting his daughter in the Swiss capital, Bern. American authorities suspect Adamov of embezzling U.S. Energy Department funds and diverting them into private projects in the United States, Ukraine and Russia.
"We are very satisfied with the outcome of this decision," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Daniel Wendell. He declined to comment further.
Adamov, a nuclear physicist, was appointed atomic energy minister in 1998 but came under increasing criticism in connection with corruption allegations against him and his proposal to import nuclear waste to Russia for reprocessing.
In 2001, the anti-corruption committee of Russia's State Duma, or lower house of parliament, accused Adamov of illegally setting up companies inside and outside Russia, including a consulting firm called Omeka registered in Monroeville, Pa.
Adamov was dismissed from his post in March 2001 as part of a Cabinet reshuffle by President Vladimir Putin (search).