Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 138

Boris Berezovsky was reportedly questioned for two hours on July 14 by Nikolai Volkov, the man in charge of the Prosecutor General’s Office’s probe into the alleged embezzlement of funds from Aeroflot, Russia’s state airline (Russian agencies, July 16). Reports of the interrogation followed the news that Volkov plans to travel to Switzerland this week to pick up 700 kilogram shipment of documents–some eighty boxes of material–seized during searches by the Swiss authorities of Andava and Forus, the Swiss companies, allegedly set up by Berezovsky, which handled Aeroflot’s foreign hard currency revenues, worth an estimated US$400 million to US$600 million. Investigators believe that some of those revenues were stolen. Volkov questioned the heads of the two companies in Switzerland last November (Russian agencies, July 15). In January 1999, Berezovsky and two of Aeroflot’s top executives, Nikolai Glushkov and Aleksandr Krasknenkur, were charged with illegal entrepreneurship and money laundering. A warrant was subsequently issued for Berezovsky’s arrest. The warrant was later rescinded and the criminal case against him closed (see the Monitor, April 7-8, 12, 19, 27, 1999).

It is not clear whether Berezovsky is in real trouble again. The television station he reportedly controls, Russian Public Television (ORT), had a brief item about the interrogation on its news last night, but stressed that Berezovsky was being questioned this time as a witness, not a suspect (ORT, July 16). Segodnya, the newspaper of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group, perhaps the main competitor of Berezovsky’s media empire, today raised doubts about how seriously the Prosecutor General’s Office is pursuing the case against the tycoon, and even implied that prosecutors last year accused Berezovsky of illegal entrepreneurship precisely because they knew the charge would not hold up. The paper said the slowness of the probe into Berezovsky was proof that he was being treated differently than other oligarchs–clearly meaning Gusinsky, who was jailed briefly in May and remains under investigation for alleged embezzlement of government funds (Segodnya, July 17). Another newspaper, however, today, suggested that Berezovsky was facing his “final battle,” since he was gradually being frozen out of the “Family”, the group of powerful Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders, by its key members–Sibneft oil chief Roman Abramovich, Moscow banker Aleksandr Mamut, Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin and President Vladimir Putin himself (Moskovsky komsomolets, July 17). In gearing up for this final battle, Berezovsky–who in recent weeks has publicly attacked Putin’s plans to centralize authority and reduce the power of Russia’s governors–is reportedly planning to put all of the media he reportedly controls into one holding. Igor Shabdurasulov, whom Putin removed over the weekend as first deputy Kremlin administration chief, said that he planned to head the holding. Shabdurasulov, a long-time Berezovsky loyalist, said the holding will include the television stations ORT and TV-6; the newspapers Nezavisimaya gazeta, Kommersant and Novye Izvestia; the magazine Ogonek; and Nashe Radio (Vedomosti, July 17).