Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 192

Boris Berezovsky will appear at the Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow tomorrow to answer questions connected to the Aeroflot case, involving the alleged embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars from Russia’s state airline by two Swiss firms linked to the controversial tycoon. Anonymous Russian law enforcement sources told the Interfax news agency on October 13, that Berezovsky would soon be questioned in the case, and over the weekend, the oligarch himself, who was in France, confirmed the information. “As it became known to me from unofficial sources, I am being asked to appear at the Prosecutor General’s Office as a witness on October 17 at 10 AM,” Berezovsky said, adding that he had received “no official summons whatsoever” from that office but was ready meet with its representatives (Russian agencies, October 16).

The Aeroflot investigation, which involves two Swiss companies–Andava and Forus Services–created by Berezovsky and his associates, was originally launched by former Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov in late 1998 or early 1999. Then President Boris Yeltsin subsequently suspended Skuratov. A short time later, in early 1999, an arrest warrant was issued for Berezovsky in connection with the Aeroflot case. The official who signed that warrant, then Deputy Prosecutor General Mikhail Katyshev, was immediately fired (see the Monitor, April 7, 1999). The warrant for Berezovsky was rescinded eight days later, and a short time after that, the man believed to behind the move against Berezovsky, then Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, was fired (see the Monitor, April 15, May 12, 1999). The Russian investigation into Aeroflot subsequently languished, while the Swiss authorities moved forward with a money laundering case against the two companies, eventually raiding their offices and freezing their bank accounts. In August of this year, Nikolai Volkov, the official of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office who was leading the Aeroflot investigation, was fired shortly after returning from Switzerland with crates of evidence which the Swiss authorities had seized from Forus and Andava. Earlier this month, Valentin Roschacher, Switzerland’s federal prosecutor, complained about Volkov’s firing and what he saw as the Russian authorities inaction and lack of cooperation in the Aeroflot investigation (see the Monitor, October 5). This may explain the decision to call Berezovsky in for questioning, though the fact that the oligarch himself said that he had heard about the plans to question him through “unofficial sources” suggests that the Russian prosecutors are asking him to submit to questioning, not telling him to do so.

Against this backdrop it is worth noting an article about Berezovsky’ relations with President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin published last week in the government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta. “The regime can defeat the oligarch by using information concerning the Aeroflot case received from the Swiss prosecutor’s office,” the paper said. “But the case is classified. That is why Berezovsky enjoys the status of ‘immunity’. And he knows this” (Rossiiskaya gazeta, October 13). The paper did not explain why the Aeroflot case was “classified” or why Berezovsky had been granted the status of “immunity.”

Berezovsky, meanwhile confirmed that he was planning to return to Moscow today to participate in the founding meeting of the shareholders of Teletrust, the company he created to hold the 49-percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT) which he controls. Earlier this year, Berezovsky agreed to “relinquish” his control of the minority stake in ORT, which is 51-percent state-owned, but picked a group of journalists and writers to server as trustees and hold portions of the 49-percent ORT stake. Teletrust’s general director is Igor Shabdurasulov, a member of ORT’s board of directors and a long-time Berezovsky ally, and few observers believe the transfer of ORT shares to Teletrust will mean that Berezovsky has relinquished control of the channel (Russian agencies, October 16).