Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 199

Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former Russian prime minister, confirmed this week that he plans to sue George Bush Jr., the U.S. Republican presidential candidate, for Bush’s allegations that funds which the International Monetary Fund sent to Russia ended up in the pockets of Chernomyrdin and other top Russian officials (Russian agencies, October 23). Bush made the allegation during one of his televised debates with his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, who maintained a close working relationship with Chernomyrdin through such institutions as the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. Bush subsequently backed off the charge, saying that Chernomyrdin may have pocketed not IMF funds, but those from another program (Los Angeles Times, October 24).

The Republican candidate, however, received backing for his charge this week from Felipe Turover, a Russian emigre bank official who claims to have seen and documented evidence connected to a host of corrupt deals involving top Russian officials, which he handed over to former Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov and former Swiss federal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. Turover said in an interview published this week that he doubted that Chernomyrdin would really sue Bush because of the “dirt” which such a lawsuit would unearth. Turover added, however, that he was prepared to serve as a “witness” on Bush’s behalf, and claimed that not only IMF funds, but those from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and other international institutions had been stolen by the “Family”–the inner circle of former President Boris Yeltsin which included his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, Boris Berezovsky, Moscow banker Aleksandr Mamut, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin and Chernomyrdin.

Turover, who carries Spanish and Israeli passports and currently resides in Switzerland, claimed that a US$4.8 billion tranche which the IMF delivered to Russia in the summer of 1998 was misappropriated, but that it was “a drop in the bucket.” “Tens of billions” of dollars in foreign credits, he said, were stolen during the Yeltsin years. Turover also claimed that Yeltsin signed a secret decree in 1993 mandating that companies and bank accounts belonging to “certain people,” whom he did not name, should handle all the funds from all large export-import operations. Turover did not provide evidence for his claims, and told his interviewer that were he to return to Moscow, he would “receive a bullet immediately in the airport” (Novaya gazeta, October 23).

Turover previously worked as a debt collector in Russia for Switzerland’s Banca del Gottardo, which, among other things, serviced accounts for Mabetex, the Swiss construction-engineering firm which allegedly paid millions of dollars to top Russian officials. Turover claimed last year that the bank held a “gigantic” number of accounts of top Russian officials, including Chernomyrdin, former Kremlin administration chief Valentin Yumashev, former privatization chief Maxim Boiko and former Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov. Turover also claimed that credit card accounts were opened in the Banca del Gottardo in 1993 for Yeltsin and members of his family. Russian media friendly to the Kremlin portrayed Turover as an ally of Skuratov and noted that Russian law enforcement had investigated Turover (see the Monitor, September 16, 1999). Late last year, Turover made even more sensational allegations, including that Chernomyrdin, during his tenure as prime minister, had signed secret decrees (1) sanctioning the transshipment of cocaine through Russia and (2) giving Sibneft, the oil company reportedly controlled by Berezovsky and fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich, the right to export three million tons of oil without paying any excise duty (Novaya gazeta, December 27, 1999). Turover did not present evidence in this interview, but neither did Chernomyrdin sue him. Chernomyrdin was quoted this week as saying that recent press reports accusing him of misappropriating IMF funds were “nonsense and rubbish” written by “sick people” (Russian agencies, October 23).

Meanwhile, Vasily Kolmogorov, Russia’s deputy prosecutor general, said yesterday that his office had found no evidence that the IMF’s US$4.8 billion credit to Russia in the summer of 1998 was misappropriated (Russian agencies, October 24). The Swiss authorities are conducting an investigation into whether some of the IMF funds intended for Russia were misappropriated and put into Swiss bank accounts. Comments by Swiss officials and various leaks in recent months suggest that the Swiss believe that they have indeed found evidence of this (see the Monitor, July 17, 21, 25, 31; August 31; September 18).