What is the sound of a hundred shoes dropping? Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov, investigating Central Bank shenanigans, Kremlin kickbacks, and tycoon crime dropped a pair of heavy boots when his office issued arrest warrants for Boris Berezovsky and Aleksandr Smolensky. Berezovsky, a longtime Yeltsin supporter with extensive if hidden interests in autos, banking, oil, and print and broadcast media, is wanted in connection with the alleged diversion of hard currency from Aeroflot (which he is said to control) to a Swiss company he set up to receive the money. Smolensky, politically less prominent, was the principal figure in SBS-Agro, one of last year’s splashiest bank failures. He is wanted in connection with the embezzlement of $32 million from a bank in Kazakhstan in the early 1990’s. Both men are out of the country, Berezovsky in Paris, Smolensky in Vienna. Berezovsky says he will return. Smolensky, who holds Austrian as well as Russian citizenship, may decide to have another Sacher torte until the heat is off back home.
Skuratov, who met last month for ten hours with Swiss prosecutor Carla del Ponte, hints that he has evidence of high-level corruption, theft of state funds, and money laundering on a massive scale–a centipede’s worth of shoes, many benchmade for Russia’s power elite. So eager is President Yeltsin to squelch Skuratov’s investigations, which may reach to him and his family, that he has dismissed him not once but twice. The first try collapsed when the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, rejected Skuratov’s forced resignation, as it may do under the constitution. The second try came April 2, when Yeltsin, in a move of dubious legality, “suspended” Skuratov and asked the Federation Council to dismiss him. The acting prosecutor general, installed during Skuratov’s suspension, immediately fired the deputy prosecutor general who signed the Berezovsky and Smolensky warrants.