Boris Berezovsky reacted yesterday to a summons from Prosecutor General’s Office that he appear for questioning on November 13 as a suspect in the Aeroflot case, involving the alleged embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars from Russia’s state airline. Berezovsky called the summons “political blackmail” and declared his solidarity with fellow oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, who has also been summoned for questioning by the same office. Gusinsky is a suspect in a separate case, involving alleged fraud by his Media-Most holding in borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Gazprom natural gas monopoly. Berezovsky said that he had offered Gusinsky help in ensuring that Media-Most’s NTV remains “nonstate television channel” and vowed that he would never sell or otherwise transfer the media under his control to the state (Russian agencies, November 2). Berezovsky, who had earlier promised to transfer to the state the 49-percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT) which he controls, recently set up a company called “Teletrust” to hold in trust his shares in ORT, which is 51-percent state-owned. Berezovsky owns or controls other media, including the newspapers Nezavisimaya gazeta and Noviye Izvestia.
Also yesterday, Leonid Troshin, head of the information center of the Prosecutor General’s Office, officially responded to Berezovsky’s comment. Troshin denied that his office had “political motives” in publicly announcing its summons for Berezovsky and Gusinsky and said it had done so in order to preempt an expected “propaganda campaign” by the two tycoons. “We speak only in the language of the law,” Troshin said, calling Berezovsky’s accusation “predictable” and “the usual defensive reaction among this category of people” (Russian agencies, November 2; Moscow Times, November 3).
Berezovsky also commented yesterday on the news that Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer allied with the tycoon, had fled to Great Britain with his wife and six-year-old son and requested political asylum, citing threats from the FSB. “What is happening to Litvinenko is quite logical,” Berezovsky said. “The man is fighting for his life and for the life of his family” (Russian agencies, November 2). Litvinenko reportedly told the British authorities upon his arrival in the UK that he feared that the FSB might try to kill him to prevent him from revealing what he knows, including information about the September 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow. Interestingly, Alexander Goldfarb, the Public Health Research Institute of New York’s Moscow representative, accompanied Litvinenko and his family to London. According to a newspaper report, Goldfarb’s institute has received donations from Berezovsky (Vremya novostei, November 3). This suggests that the oligarch may have had a hand in orchestrating Litvinenko’s departure to the UK, perhaps as a way to discredit President Vladimir Putin, whom Berezovsky has accused of authoritarianism.
Litvinenko and Berezovsky have been closely associated since 1994. In 1998, a small group of FSB officers led by Litvinenko accused their superiors of plotting to murder Berezovsky, and the following year, after Berezovsky was named CIS executive secretary, he made Litvinenko an adviser on security matters (see the Monitor, November 2).
According to a report today, Litvinenko, prior to his departure to Great Britain, was still under investigation for allegedly framing suspects and using torture to extract confessions from them while investigating a suspected crime boss in the city of Kastroma in 1997. The former FSB lieutenant colonel reportedly signed an agreement with investigators not to leave Russia while the investigation was ongoing. It is not clear why the law enforcement authorities did not seize or revoke his passport (Izvestia, November 3). An anonymous FSB official was quoted today as denying that his service had “harassed” Litvinenko and saying that he could not have known much about the September 1999 Moscow apartment building bombings, given that he had already been suspended from the FSB by that time (Moscow Times, November 3).
RUSSIA RANKS AMONG THE LOWEST ON ECONOMIC FREEDOM LIST.