Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 20

The Swiss and Russian law enforcement authorities are not only zeroing in on Pavel Borodin, the long-time associate of Boris Yeltsin who until recently controlled the Kremlin’s property department. Another more well-known member of the Kremlin “Family,” as Yeltsin’s inner circle became known last year, was in the spotlight yesterday. In an interview published in the French newspaper Le Monde, Nikolai Volkov, who is heading the probe by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office into alleged money laundering from the state airline Aeroflot, said that Boris Berezovsky may soon be charged with embezzlement of state funds and money laundering. Volkov said that, early next month, Swiss prosecutors will send their Russian counterparts documents which will provide the basis for these charges. Last year, Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov launched an investigation into allegations that Berezovsky had illegally used several Swiss front companies to manage Aeroflot’s revenues from ticket sales abroad, amounting to several hundred million dollars a year, and that some of those funds were embezzled. In his interview published yesterday in Le Monde, Volkov said that if the documents from Switzerland make the case against Berezovsky, his office will immediately file charges of embezzlement and money laundering against the Russian tycoon. These charges, Volkov noted, can result in a sentence of up to ten years in prison. At the same time, the Russian Finance Ministry is carrying out an investigation to determine how much of Aeroflot’s money went missing (Russian agencies, January 27; Segodnya, January 28).

Early last November, Volkov announced that the Prosecutor General’s Office had decided to drop one of the charges against Berezovsky related to the Aeroflot case–of “illegal business activities”–because the material provided by the Swiss authorities was inconclusive (Russian agencies, November 5). Later that month, however, Volkov said the Aeroflot case had not been closed and that new charges could be brought against Berezovsky (Russian agencies, November 10, 17).

Berezovsky reacted quickly yesterday to Volkov’s interview with Le Monde, accusing the investigator of “unprofessionalism” for having dropped and then revived the charges against him. He also claimed that Volkov had been removed from questioning witnesses in Switzerland for having commented publicly on the interrogations. “Today Volkov demonstrated again his unprofessionalism,” Berezovsky said in reaction to the Le Monde interview, adding that if Volkov continued to make such comments, he, Berezovsky, would ask his lawyer to bring charges against the investigator (Russian agencies, January 27).

Even if charges are brought against Berezovsky in Russia, he has immunity from prosecution, having won a seat in the State Duma in last December’s election. That immunity can be withdrawn if a majority of the 450 Duma members vote to do so, but, according to one estimate, such a move would garner only 120-130 votes. Viktor Pokhmelkin, a deputy with the Union of Right-Wing Forces, is currently leading a campaign to do away completely with immunity from prosecution for Duma deputies, but the initiative is also unlikely to win approval. In addition, some observers believe Berezovsky has strong influence over the Prosecutor General’s Office, including personnel issues. Indeed, suspended Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov was quoted today as predicting that the office’s top officials would try to “cool” Volkov’s “ardor” for the Aeroflot case (Segodnya, January 28). Yuri Chaika is currently the acting prosecutor general.