Boris Berezovsky appeared yesterday for questioning at the Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow, in connection with the alleged diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars from the state airline Aeroflot through two Swiss firms, Andava and Forus Services. The tycoon was questioned by Alexander Filin, the investigator now leading the Aeroflot probe. In August, Filin replaced Nikolai Volkov as chief investigator in the case.
Volkov was removed from his post shortly after returning from Switzerland with documents which the authorities there had seized from Andava and Forus. While Volkov’s superiors said he was removed for exceeding his authority by photocopying a signature of his boss and using it to invited Swiss prosecutors to Moscow, Volkov charged that he was removed from the case for political reasons. In 1999, Berezovsky and two top Aeroflot officials, Nikolai Glushkov and Aleksandr Krasnenker, were charged in the case, and a warrant was issued for Berezovsky’s arrest. That warrant was soon rescinded and the case against him eventually dropped. Krasnenker, who was formerly Aeroflot’s commercial director, has been charged for illegal business and moneylaundering. He too was at the Prosecutor General’s Office yesterday, without his lawyer, for an “informal talk” with Filin (Russian agencies, October 17-18).
After his questioning yesterday, Berezovsky said that he had been interrogated as a witness, not a suspect in the Aeroflot case, but alleged that the summons had been politically motivated and constituted “blackmail.” “When I had good relations with the authorities, I was not called in for questioning once,” the tycoon said. He also insisted, as he has in the past, that he has had no relationship with Aeroflot. He also said that the fact he was called in concerning that case was a recognition of the “cleanness and transparency” of his own business. Although Filin instructed Berezovsky and his lawyer, Semyon Ariya, not to discuss details of the interrogation, a newspaper reported today that the tycoon was questioned about damage caused to the company which must be compensated. Ariya said that damages to Aeroflot had not yet been established. Berezovsky, unlike Krasnenker, has not been banned from traveling, but Filin reportedly asked the tycoon to remain in his “field of vision” (Kommersant, October 18).
On October 16, Berezovsky was quoted as saying that Vladimir Gusinsky, head of the Media-Most holding, had advised him not to appear for questioning, warning Berezovsky that he could be arrested or even killed (Russian agencies, October 16). Gusinsky was arrested, and jailed for several days, after being called into the Prosecutor General’s Office to answer questions in a criminal case dating back to 1998. Gusinsky is currently in Israel, where he also has citizenship, and the Prosecutor General’s Office announced vowed last week that it would force the media magnate to obey the law and appear for questioning. Gusinsky was supposed to appear for questioning on October 13 in connection with a criminal case based on allegations that his media holding had illegally transferred its shares abroad, including shares which Media-Most has put up for collateral in return for loans guaranteed by Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas giant. Gusinsky and his lawyers have said that they fear he would be arrested again if appeared for questioning. The media tycoon suggested that the Russian prosecutors come to Israel to interrogate him (Russian agencies, October 13).
Berezovsky, meanwhile, has fully set up his new company, Teletrust, which will hold the 49-percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT) he has under his control. The company, which is headed by ORT board member Igor Shabdurasulov, held its third meeting on September 16, during which it established fourteen managers, including Vasily Aksyonov of George Mason University, Natalia Gevorkyan of Kommersant newspaper, Igor Golembiovsky of Novye Izvestia newspaper (chief editor), Sergei Dorenko of ORT, Vitaly Tretyakov, chief editor of Nezavisimaya gazeta and Yegor Yakovlev of Obshchaya gazeta. The company is supposed to have twenty-nine managers in total.
Several top journalists turned down the offer to sit on this management body, including playwright Edward Radzinsky and two top journalists from Media-Most’s NTV television channel–Yevgeny Kiselev and Svetlana Sorokina (Vedomosti, October 17).
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