Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 57

Carla Del Ponte, Switzerland’s top prosecutor, is due to arrive in Moscow today for what should prove to be a controversial visit. Until late yesterday there were doubts about whether the visit would in fact take place. A Swiss embassy official in Moscow told the Monitor early yesterday afternoon that Del Ponte would probably come to Russia, but said that “technical questions” still had to be resolved. By late afternoon, the Swiss embassy confirmed that she would arrive, but refused to comment on her trip beyond saying that it was a “working visit.” The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, however, was more direct, telling a Russian news agency that Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov and Del Ponte would discuss Mabetex, the Swiss firm which reportedly carried out lucrative construction projects in Russia under contracts with the Kremlin’s powerful “housekeeping affairs” department, headed by Yeltsin insider Pavel Borodin (Itar-Tass, March 22).

Two newspapers today suggested that Del Ponte and her delegation were granted Russian visas only late yesterday because of the political ramifications of her visit. One of the papers–“Moskovsky komsomolets” (M-K)–went to press before the doubts about her visit were resolved, and in its edition today includes an article stating that the hold-up in issuing visas was due to Del Ponte’s plans to bring “evidence of corruption” against high-level Russian officials. M-K reported that a number of Swiss bank accounts belonging to top Russian officials and holding “astronomical” sums have already been frozen (Moskovsky komsomolets, Izvestia, March 23).

Other media played down such reports, suggesting that Del Ponte was not bringing suitcases full of “kompromat” (compromising materials). The Swiss prosecutor will, however, be accompanied by Jacques Ducry, the prosecutor of the Swiss canton of Tessin. The city of Lugano, which is in Tessin, is home to the Mabetex offices, and it was officials from Ducry’s office who carried out the January 22 search of those offices. Russian media have noted that it is not illegal for Swiss nationals or companies to bribe foreign officials, and that such “commissions” can even be written off as business expenses. But the Swiss authorities can–and apparently did–assist the Russian authorities in investigating the suspected bribery of Russian officials. Mabetex officials have strenuously denied this, and having any connection to the sex video apparently used to blackmail Skuratov.

On the other hand, several media today cited a Swiss newspaper report that Mabetex president Bedzhet Pacolli has admitted giving US$300,000 to one of the candidates in Russia’s 1996 presidential election. Pacolli did not say precisely to whose campaign he contributed (Segodnya, Tribuna, March 23). Each presidential candidate in 1996 was permitted to spend no more than US$3 million, but the Yeltsin campaign is believed to have spent as much as one hundred times more than the legal limit.