Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 97

Pavel Borodin, the Russia-Belarus union state secretary, was questioned in Geneva yesterday by investigating magistrate Daniel Devaud in connection with the so-called Mabetex case, which involves charges that, during his tenure as the Kremlin’s “property manager,” Borodin and others laundered more than US$25 million in kickbacks received in return for contracts to refurbish Russian government offices. The interrogation amounted to little, at least from the point of view of the Swiss prosecutors, because Borodin availed himself of his right afforded under the Swiss constitution and refused to answer any questions. Having been arrested in January in New York on a Swiss warrant, Borodin agreed last month to go voluntarily to Switzerland for questioning, after which he was released on US$3 million bail and returned to Russia. Through his lawyers and spokesman, he promised to return to Switzerland if summoned for further questioning. On the evening of May 16, defying the expectations of some Swiss officials–including Geneva prosecutor Bernard Bertossa, who has strongly criticized the Russian authorities for failing to cooperate in the fight against money laundering–he flew back to Geneva for interrogation by Devaud the following day. During the session, Borodin, besides refusing to answer any questions, reminded Devaud that he had been accused of nothing in Russia and that the investigation there, on the same allegations, had been shut down last year.

The Swiss prosecutors have also questioned three Swiss citizens–two businessmen and a lawyer accused of helping Borodin to launder kickbacks–who agreed to answer questions. Indeed, while Borodin emerged from yesterday’s questioning with a smile and a statement that he was “satisfied” with how it transpired, one of his interrogators, Geneva deputy prosecutor Jean-Bernard Schmidt, indicated that the Swiss side had collected compelling evidence against Borodin and that his refusal to answer questions was “pure idiocy.” For its part, Borodin’s side–including the four lawyers who were with him during yesterday’s interrogation–has indicated that it believes that the Swiss prosecutors have no case because they have they have been unable to produce banking documents bearing Borodin’s signature (Kommersant, May 18). In any case, Borodin will be asked to return again for questioning on June 5 (Russian agencies, May 17; Le Temps [Geneva], May 18; see also the Monitor, May 4).

Yesterday, following his interrogation, Borodin flew from Geneva to Minsk, and this morning met with Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The two men discussed issues related to the planned Russia-Belarus union, including the development of a union constitution and budget. Borodin said that while he was in Geneva, he held “big negotiations” aimed at attracting investment that could be used to carry out union programs (Russian agencies, May 18).

Meanwhile, Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs committee, claimed this week that the West had invented the Borodin case in order to discredit the idea of the Russia-Belarus union. Rogozin made this assertion as a part of a larger conspiracy theory–that Western “special services” were gathering compromising information against Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was recently appointed Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine, in order to derail what Rogozin described as the “warming relations” between Moscow and Kiev. Rogozin also said that the situation surrounding the takeover of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most–presumably meaning the charges that it was a state-inspired effort against opposition media–was an example of Russian oligarchs and Western secret services working together against Russia’s interests (Novye Izvestia, May 17; ORT, May 15; see also the Monitor, May 16).