Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 75

Were Boris Berezovsky to lose his State Duma seat representing the republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, it would also rob him of parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution. This is particularly interesting in light of the rumors last weekend that Berezovsky had fled the country ahead of impending criminal charges involving the alleged embezzlement of funds from Aeroflot, Russia’s state airline, by several Swiss front companies set up by him. The rumors that he had fled abroad were apparently not true. But, according to one report, President-elect Vladimir Putin promised acting International Monetary Fund Director Stanley Fischer earlier this month that there would be “concrete results” from the Aeroflot investigation by the third week of May, when an IMF mission is expected to arrive in Moscow for talks. According to this same report, German Ugryumov, head of the Federal Security Service’s department for defending the constitutional order and fighting terrorism (Moskovsky komsomolets, April 8), is leading the Aeroflot investigation.

Almost exactly one year ago, the Aeroflot case almost led to Berezovsky being checkmated. The tycoon left Russia for France shortly before the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office issued an order for his arrest in connection with the case. Shortly thereafter, the tycoon returned to Moscow and submitted himself to questioning (see the Monitor, April 7-8, 12, 19, 1999). The arrest order was later rescinded, after then-President Boris Yeltsin removed Berezovsky’s main foe, Yevgeny Primakov, as prime minister. Last November, prosecutors dropped one of the charges against Berezovsky related to the Aeroflot case–of “illegal business activities”–but Nikolai Volkov, the lead investigator on the case from the Prosecutor General’s Office, subsequently said that new charges could be brought against the tycoon. Earlier this year, Volkov said that Berezovsky could “soon” be charged with embezzlement of state funds and money laundering (see the Monitor, January 28). Volkov has on several occasions traveled to Switzerland, where the authorities have been conducting their own investigation into the allegations involving Berezovsky and Aeroflot.

The question, thus, is whether Berezovsky will be able to slip out of the noose yet again. His chances to do so would appear less than they were last year, when he reportedly exercised a strong indirect influence over then President Boris Yeltsin through Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, who was then a Kremlin adviser. On the other hand, some observers have reacted skeptically to reports that Berezovsky’s career as a back-stage power broker is about to end, given that he still has allies in high places, like Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin (NTV, April 9). Then again, rumors persist that Putin plans to replace Voloshin in the near future.

Berezovsky was attacked on other fronts this week. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, in an April 10 interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio, charged that the “beginning” of the current war in Chechnya was financed by “Russian financial oligarchs, mainly Berezovsky” (Moscow Times, April 12). Some observers have alleged that Berezovsky conspired with rebel Chechen field commanders to launch last year’s invasion of Dagestan, which helped spark the latest Chechen war (see the Monitor, January 24, February 8).