Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 30

Yesterday an official with Russia’s Audit Chamber, the independent state watchdog agency created by the parliament, charged that the Central Bank had issued illegal licenses allowing specific transfers of foreign currency in and out of Russia after those transfers had already taken place (Russian agencies, February 11).

The Audit Chamber’s charge could mark a point of intersection between the controversy currently swirling around the Central Bank and the other big scandal of the moment: the crackdown aimed at companies believed to be controlled by tycoon and CIS executive secretary Boris Berezovsky–specifically, Aeroflot, Russia’s state airline company.

As the Monitor has previously reported, “Moskovsky komsomolets” (M-K) wrote that Berezovsky had taken effective control of Aeroflot, and had developed a scheme in which the company’s cash turnover, then estimated at US$400 million a year, would be managed by Andava, a Swiss company which Berezovsky allegedly created. M-K reported in its 1997 investigation that Berezovsky had engineered the appointment of Valery Okulov, President Boris Yeltsin’s son-in-law, to head Aeroflot, in return for which he, Berezovsky, won the Central Bank’s retroactive permission to manage Aeroflot’s hard-currency receipts.

In December, “Lyudi”–a monthly reportedly launched by Aleksandr Korzhakov, Yeltsin’s former bodyguard who subsequently turned against both the president and Berezovsky–published what it claimed were fragments of telephone conversations between Berezovsky, Dubinin and Nikolai Glushkov, a Berezovsky ally in Aeroflot’s management. In the alleged discussions, Berezovsky pushed Dubinin to expedite the issue of a Central Bank license for Andava (Lyudi, December 1998). Last week prosecutors searched the offices of several companies connected to Aeroflot (see the Monitor, February 4). According to a newspaper report today, investigators plan to travel to Switzerland and other countries to gather evidence concerning the embezzlement of “hundreds of millions of dollars,” including state funds, from the company, as well as “machinations” by top Aeroflot officials (Russian agencies, Vremya, February 12-18). The anti-Berezovsky campaign inside Aeroflot is believed to have been initiated by Okulov, Yeltsin’s son-in-law, who turned against Berezovsky, and is reportedly finding support from Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.