Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 142

One of the most interesting and puzzling aspects of the Aeroflot case is that no charges have been brought against Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled oligarch and TV-6 owner, who was a close associate of those charged and once widely believed to have masterminded the unorthodox scheme for managing the state airline’s hard-currency revenues. The Russian media gave scant coverage to the announcement that the Aeroflot investigation had been completed and even less comment on the fact that Berezovsky had not been charged. Interestingly, the most extensive coverage came from Kommersant, a newspaper owned by Berezovsky, which interviewed Mikhail Andreev, who headed the team of Prosecutor General’s Office investigators in the Aeroflot probe. Asked why Berezovsky, who was until last December a witness in the case, no longer figured in it, Andreev insisted that Berezovsky is still a witness in the case, and that the probe of Glushkov and the others were handled separately and brought to completion while the investigation of Berezovsky is continuing (Kommersant, July 21).

A look at the Aeroflot case’s chronology suggests that the charges against Berezovsky are contingent on political factors–including, perhaps, back-room negotiations with the Kremlin. Last July, the investigator who was then in charge of the Aeroflot probe, Nikolai Volkov, returned from a trip to Switzerland with evidence provided to him by Swiss prosecutors in connection with the Aeroflot case. Volkov claimed that the documents and other material from Switzerland–which was reportedly only a third of the total evidence the Swiss authorities had collected, but weighed nearly 600 kilograms–showed that US$585 million in Aeroflot revenues had passed through Andava and US$385 million through Forus–another Swiss company which, according to press reports, was connected to Berezovsky–and that all of the funds were stolen (Polit.ru, July 27, 2000). The sums Volkov mentioned then were, of course, much higher than those investigators are now citing.

In early August of last year, Berezovsky announced his opposition to President Vladimir Putin and quit the State Duma–a step that robbed him of immunity from criminal prosecution. Later that month, however, Volkov was forced into retirement. He claimed afterward that the progress he had made toward solving the Aeroflot case had probably been the reason for his removal. He also said at the time that he had the impression that the authorities were using the law enforcement system “for bargaining with the oligarchs–now bringing a criminal case, suddenly closing it, now arresting people, now letting them go” (see the Monitor, September 8, 2000). In October, the Prosecutor General’s Office questioned Berezovsky in connection with Aeroflot. In early November, Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolmogorov announced that his office planned to bring criminal charges against both Berezovsky, in connection with the Aeroflot case, and Media-Most founder Vladimir Gusinsky, in connection with the case against him for allegedly defrauding the Gazprom natural gas monopoly. Both men were summoned to appear at the Prosecutor General’s Office on November 13. Kolmogorov threatened to arrest them if they failed to turn up (Moscow Times, November 2, 2000). Neither of them did so. Berezovsky, who had gone to Paris, announced that he would remain abroad because the Russian authorities–and Putin personally–were pressuring him for political reasons. Berezovsky also alleged that Aeroflot funds were used to fund the pro-Kremlin Unity bloc during the 1999 parliamentary elections and Putin’s 2000 presidential campaign.

However, while the Russian authorities subsequently issued an international arrest warrant for Gusinsky–whom the Spanish authorities then arrested and held until a court there ordered his release–it did not issue one for Berezovsky. In February of this year, Kolmogorov said that Berezovsky would eventually be charged in the Aeroflot case and again warned that an international arrest order might be issued for him if he, like Gusinsky, refused to heed the Russian prosecutors’ summons (Polit.ru, February 1). Once again, however, no arrest order was issued.

Following Nikolai Glushkov’s alleged escape attempt, Vladimir Kolesnikov, an aide to Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, said that Berezovsky might have been complicit. Berezovsky denied any such escape attempt, calling it a “political provocation” (Polit.ru, April 13). Yet while the authorities issued a Russia-wide arrest warrant for Badri Patarkatsishvili, chairman of the board of directors of Berezovsky’s TV-6 television station, who was accused of participating in Glushkov’s alleged escape attempt, there is no indication that Berezovsky has even been formally charged with participating in the alleged plot. That, along with the fact that Berezovsky has again avoided being charged in the Aeroflot case, led one observer last week to note that the authorities “seem to have decided not to disturb Boris Abramovich” (SMI.ru, July 20).

It is interesting to note that during a press conference last week, Putin, who has on more than one occasion publicly repeated claims by prosecutors and Gazprom officials that Gusinsky massively defrauded the gas giant, made no mention of the Aeroflot case when answering a question about Berezovsky. The president suggested that Berezovsky had become politically impotent but added that the oligarch could play a constructive opposition role (see the Monitor, July 19).