Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 24

Against the backdrop of an ongoing high-level political power struggle, former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev was arrested yesterday and charged with stealing US$50,000 from the “Public Fund for the Protection of the Population’s Civil Rights,” an organization founded at Kovalev’s initiative while he was justice minister. He was also charged with the illegal possession of a weapon. Kovalev was taken to Moscow’s Butyrka prison instead of Lefortovo or Matrosskaya Tishinna, where high-profile prisoners are usually incarcerated. Butyrka is notorious for its bad conditions. In addition, Kovalev’s lawyer said he was not allowed to meet with his client–a violation of Russia’s constitution (Russian agencies, February 3).

Kovalev was removed as justice minister in 1997 after the monthly tabloid “Sovershenno sekretno” (Top Secret) published still shots from a video made of him cavorting with prostitutes in a sauna reportedly controlled by Moscow’s Solntsevo organized crime group. The video from which the shots were taken had been seized by police when they raided the offices of Arkady Angelevich, the head of Montazhspetsbank. Angelevich was arrested for embezzling funds from the bank and remains in jail today. One newspaper, citing information from police investigators, said that the police called Kovalev in yesterday to give evidence in a case against one of his former deputies regarding the embezzlement of US$300,000 from the “Public Fund for the Protection of the Population’s Civil Rights.” The money was allegedly given to the fund as a “donation” from Montazhspetsbank and then sent to Cyprus, after which it disappeared (Kommersant daily, February 4). According to another media report, Kovalev’s Justice Ministry had forced businesses to pay into another “fund”–the International Fund for Protections of Civil Rights. Larisa Kislinskaya, the crime reporter who broke the story about Kovalev’s sauna antics, claimed yesterday that Kovalev personally took US$2 million from this fund (NTV, February 3).

Kovalev was a relatively small fish, but his arrest may have been part of Yevgeny Primakov’s recent pledge to fill Russia’s prisons with corrupt officials.