By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/28/2013 6:51:12 PM ET 2013-06-28T22:51:12

The Justice Department on Monday filed its biggest personal tax evasion case ever, accusing the man who once tried to rescue Russia's Mir space station, Walter Anderson, of failing to pay more than $200 million in personal income taxes by stashing income in offshore bank accounts.

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The allegations mark the largest criminal tax case against an individual, said Mark Everson, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

Anderson, 51, earned millions by dealing in telecommunications companies after the AT&T breakup and became a global figure about five years ago when he embarked on a mission to rescue the ailing Mir space station. 

The Justice Department arrested him over the weekend at Dulles International Airport as he was returning on a flight from London. A grand jury indictment accuses him of, over a five-year period, conducting business through offshore corporations in Panama and the British Virgin Islands to make it appear he was not personally earning the income.  Those ventures earned nearly a half billion dollars.

Anderson pleaded not guilty to the tax evasion charges Monday and was ordered held without bail until a hearing Thursday.

If convicted on all the charges, he could face up to 80 years in prison. This case is part of a recent push by federal prosecutors to crack down on use of offshore accounts to evade U.S. taxes.

Five years ago, Anderson put up $20 million to try to salvage Mir, destined to burn up on eventual re-entry.  He hoped to lease it to drug companies or firms interested in micro-gravity research, but the only market that showed any promise was space tourism.  Dennis Tito, a high-rolling investor, agreed to pay over $20 million for a visit to Mir to become the world's first space tourist.  And reality TV producer Mark Burnett signed a contract with MirCorp for a show, “Destination: Mir.”  Contestants would train in Russia, with the winner getting a trip to the space station.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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