AEROFLOT CASE EXTENDED, BUT MENTION OF BEREZOVSKY DROPPED.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 117

The Prosecutor General’s Office has extended the deadline for its investigation of the Aeroflot case until August 18 of this year. The case involves charges that two Swiss firms connected to Boris Berezovsky, Forus and Andava, were used to siphon off revenues from Russia’s state airline. Last December, two former Aeroflot executives, Nikolai Glushkov and Aleksandr Krasnenker, were charged with large-scale fraud in the case, and Glushkov was jailed (see the Monitor, December 8, 2000). Two other persons have been charged in the case–Roman Sheinin, head of a company called FOK, which was hired by Aeroflot to collect its foreign debts, and Lydia Kryzhevskaya, FOK’s senior vice president in charge of finances.

But while additional charges have been brought against the accused–failure to repatriate hard currency from abroad–and Glushkov’s incarceration has been extended along with the investigation’s deadline, Kommersant reported over the weekend that Berezovsky is no longer even mentioned in the official accusations (Kommersant, June 16). While the veracity of Kommersant’s report might be questionable given the fact that Berezovsky owns the newspaper, Segodnya, the paper that belonged to Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most empire before being closed down in April, quoted an “informed source” in the Prosecutor General’s Office in March as saying that Berezovsky would be cleared in the Aeroflot case (see the Monitor, March 14).

Berezovsky, of course, went into self-imposed exile abroad last year, when he accused President Vladimir Putin of authoritarianism, quit the State Duma and failed to appear at the Prosecutor General’s Office for a second interrogation concerning Aeroflot (see the Monitor, November 15, 2000). The tycoon subsequently set up a foundation to fund democratic and human rights groups–including Yelena Bonner’s Sakharov Foundation–and, more recently, promised to fund a new democratic opposition coalition that is being formed by State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, who recently broke with the pro-Kremlin Union of Right-Wing Forces (see the Monitor, June 4).

Against this backdrop it is interesting to note that Moskovsky Komsomolets reported today, in its weekly “Rating of Rumors” section, that Berezovsky, despite his much-publicized exile, recently spent several days in the elite Vishnevsky hospital in the suburban Moscow town of Krasnogorsk, for treatment of an unspecified ailment. According to the paper, one of its reporters managed to get inside the strictly guarded hospital and talk to employees, who confirmed that Berezovsky had been there, but said they had not seen the tycoon themselves, given that he had stayed in a special wing off limits to the hospital’s regular staff and brought his own team of doctors and nurses. The paper put this reported sighting of Berezovsky on Russian soil together with the fact that he, unlike Vladimir Gusinsky, has neither been charged with a crime nor the target of an international warrant and continues to own a host of Russian media, including Kommersant, Nezavisimaya Gazeta and TV-6. “‘Don’t [Berezovsky’s] attacks on the authorities look too ostentatious’–that is the question many analysts are asking themselves,” Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote. “Can it be that his links with the Kremlin have not been broken off at all? What could be more convenient–to link all oppositionists with Berezovsky in the eyes of Russians and that way to write off all attacks against Putin as oligarchical intrigues.”

Moskovsky Komsomolets, which earlier this month speculated that Berezovsky’s attacks against the Kremlin might be part of an elaborate ruse, asked analysts and politicians to comment on the situation surrounding the tycoon. Both Georgy Satarov, the former Kremlin adviser, and Aleksei Mitrofanov, the State Duma deputy and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia member, put forward the widely held theory–outlined recently by the Kremlin-connected political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky–that Berezovsky’s reincarnation as a political dissident is simply his way of protecting himself from possible criminal prosecution by being able to portray any move made against him as political persecution. However, Sergei Mitrokhin, a State Duma deputy and a member of Yabloko, noted: “The authorities themselves are interested in having the figure of Berezovsky serve as a personified permanent enemy, on whom things can be blamed” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 18; Russianobserver.com, June 7; see also the Monitor, June 4).

At the same time, Yelena Rykovtseva, media editor for the weekly newspaper Obshchaya Gazeta, quoted sources close to the Press Ministry as saying that the Kremlin is preparing “attacks” on TV-6, including “searches and arrests.” Putin, however, is holding off on moving against the channel until the passions “whipped up” in the West over last April’s takeover of Gusinsky’s NTV television die down, Rykovtseva wrote (Russia Journal, June 16). After NTV was taken over by the state-controlled monopoly Gazprom, a number of the channel’s staff, including its general director Yevgeny Kiselev, moved to TV-6. Kiselev is now TV-6’s general director and hosts his weekly news analysis program, Itogi, which he brought over from NTV.

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