More intriguingly, after the TV-6 shutdown the authorities did not rest in their campaign against Berezovsky, who had gone into self-imposed exile in 2000 and remained resident in Western Europe. Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), announced that his agency had evidence that Berezovsky had financed the Chechen rebels and said he would pass it on to law enforcement agencies abroad. On January 29, the Prosecutor General’s Office charged Berezovsky and Badri Patarkatsishvili–who had worked as the oligarch’s right-hand man both at Russian Public Television and TV-6–with creating and heading “illegal armed formations,” as the Chechnya’s rebels are known in the legalistic Kremlin-speak. All that remained was a warrant for Berezovsky’s arrest through Interpol.
What was especially intriguing about these new charges was the plethora of reports suggesting that they were true. Strana.ru, the Kremlin-connected website, quoted “informed sources close to law enforcement agencies” as saying that when Berezovsky was deputy secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council in 1997, he had urged the Chechen rebel field commanders to start trading in kidnap victims and had used ransom payments as means to finance them. According to the website, the FSB had tapes of conversations to this effect between Berezovsky and top Chechen rebel officials. For his part, Berezovsky did not deny that in his official capacity he had been in contact with many of the Chechen rebel leaders, including Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basaev. He even confirmed he had handed over US$2 million to Basaev for the repair of a cement factory. But Berezovsky denied any wrongdoing, noting that then President Boris Yeltsin’s administration had signed a peace agreement with Maskhadov’s government, in which Basaev then served as prime minister. Berezovsky also insisted he had played a key role in freeing hostages in Chechnya, including twenty-one captured OMON special police troops.
Some observers suggested the real story was rather more Byzantine. They said that Berezovsky–who by all accounts did play a key role in ransoming many hostages in Chechnya, including a number of television correspondents–had indeed helped create a kidnapping business in Chechnya. In doing so, however, he was acting in the interests of many key officials within Russia’s military and security establishment. According to this theory, these officials sought to turn the Russian media, which had been antiwar during the 1994-1996 military campaign in Chechnya, against the Chechen rebels, and to use hostage ransom payments as a way of funding the more radical rebel field commanders, who were Maskhadov’s sworn enemies. All of this, of course, would militate against a permanent peace settlement in Chechnya and thus keep open the prospects for conducting lucrative clandestine weapons and oil deals.
Given that many of the officials involved in these murky affairs are probably still in office, it was not immediately clear why they would want to go after Berezovsky and risk the possibility that he would go public about their roles in them. But Berezovsky had already threatened to reveal something potentially much more explosive, literally speaking–documentary evidence he claimed to have proving that the Russian special services were behind the autumn 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which killed hundreds of people and was one of the main pretexts for Moscow’s second military intervention in Chechnya. The tycoon promised to make the evidence public by the end of February.