The report that international war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte had met with Akhmed Zakaev, emissary of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, provoked an almost immediate reaction from a number of leading Russian politicians. Dmitry Rogozin, head of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, urged that Del Ponte be summoned by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to explain on what basis she had met with Zakaev. Rogozin called the meeting “unfriendly and provocative” in relation to Russia and said it warranted an “official reaction from the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation” (RIA Novosti, March 7). Aleksandr Gurov, chairman of the Duma’s security committee, described Zakaev as “belonging to a group that in Russia has been declared terrorist” and said the meeting between Del Ponte and Zakaev did not “do honor to the Hague tribunal” or “contribute to the struggle against international terrorism.” “Despite the fact that Russia is fighting against international terrorism, in the West they continue to meet with bandits: The Russian public doesn’t understand this,” Gurov said. The meeting, he added, was evidence of “the Western tactic and strategy of double and triple standards” and that “Russia is not listened to” and remains the victim of “bias.” Gurov said that Zakaev should tell Carla Del Ponte about “how Chechen bandits chopped off the heads of living people, chopped off [their] fingers,” adding–in an apparent reference to the beheading of four Western telecommunications workers kidnapped in Chechnya in 1998–that they had carried out such crimes “not only against Russians, but also against English and German [people].” Gurov said he was ready to present Del Ponte with videotapes of crimes carried out by Chechen “bandits” (Presscenter.ru, March 7).
Franz Klintsevich, first deputy head of the Duma’s pro-Kremlin Unity faction, called Del Ponte “a prosecutor who carries out consultations with a criminal” and accused her of giving “moral support to bandits who are up to their elbows in blood.” He also said that the international war crimes prosecutor, “like many international institutions… is doing everything possible to humiliate Russia,” but that she would be unsuccessful. Klintsevich said Russia was “fighting international terrorism” and that “Chechen criminals will either end up in jail or will be killed, and the world community should have no doubts on that score.” Like Rogozin, he called for an official reaction to the Del Ponte-Zakaev meeting from the Russian Foreign Ministry and Prosecutor General’s Office (RIA Novosti, March 7).
It should be noted that prior to becoming the UN’s international war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Carla Del Ponte was Switzerland’s chief prosecutor. In that capacity, she personally initiated or had ultimate jurisdiction over a number of investigations into alleged Russian crime and corruption. These included the case against reputed crime boss Sergei Mikhailov, the Mabetex probe, involving charges that top Russian officials, including former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin, received multimillion dollar kickbacks from two Swiss firms in exchange for lucrative Russian government refurbishment contracts, and the Aeroflot case, involving charges that several Swiss companies allegedly set up by Boris Berezovsky embezzled funds from Russia’s state airline. A number of these cases were controversial both in Switzerland and in Russia, and some of them proved unsuccessful. In 1998, a Swiss court ordered the authorities in Geneva to pay Mikhailov, a resident of the city who was incarcerated but eventually acquitted on charges of organized crime activities, US$450,000 in damages.
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