Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 51

A new corruption scandal may be in the making, and the man who may make it happen is Yuri Skuratov, Russia’s ostensibly former prosecutor general.

Skuratov stepped down at the beginning of February, officially for health reasons, but most observers believed he was forced to resign for political reasons. Exactly why he stepped down remains unclear. One theory focuses on the fact that his resignation preceded by one day the raids by law enforcement agents on businesses controlled by the tycoon Boris Berezovsky. Some observers theorized that Skuratov had sanctioned the raids, and was thus forced out by a vengeful Berezovsky. Others believed the opposite–that Skuratov was forced to step down because he refused to sanction the raids, or stepped down rather than sanction the raids. Still others said that Skuratov’s departure had something to do with a letter he sent to the State Duma the day prior to his resignation, charging that the Central Bank, for five years, had placed billions of dollars of Russia’s hard currency reserves with a little-known offshore asset management company called FIMACO.

Whatever the case, Skuratov handed in his resignation, and President Boris Yeltsin requested the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, to accept it, as required by law. The Council, however, has yet to do so, and last week Skuratov showed up for work, sparking rumors that he has no intention of stepping down and that the Federation Council will back him in reversing his decision to resign. Meanwhile, “Novae izvestia” reported a third version for Skuratov’s resignation last month–that on January 29, just prior to his resignation, the Swiss prosecutor’s office, at the request of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, carried out a search of the offices of Mabetex, a construction/engineering firm located in Bern.

Mabetex has been a close partner of the Kremlin’s “housekeeping” department, headed by Pavel Borodin, a long-time member of Yeltsin’s inner circle. Specifically, Borodin’s department contracted Mabetex to carry out the restoration of the Kremlin; reconstruction of the Russian White House, the State Duma and the Federation Council; and the construction of a new luxury hotel in Moscow owned by the presidential administration. The newspaper said that it is not yet known what was found during the search of Mabetex, but quoted Domenique Raimon, a spokesman for the Swiss prosecutor’s office, as saying that the raid on Mabetex was made in connection with an investigation of high-level Russian officials suspected of receiving bribes from the company in return for helping it get contracts.

Meanwhile, on March 14, the Russian agencies news agency quoted a “highly placed representative” of the Prosecutor General’s Office as saying that an investigation into charges recently published in “Novae izvestia” and “Nezavisimaya gazeta” would probably lead to new criminal cases being opened. The source would not say who was the target of the investigations or what specific charges were involved, but did say both that they involved high government officials and that details would be cleared up upon the arrival in Moscow this week of Carla Del Ponte, Switzerland’s chief prosecutor. The source said that Del Ponte is coming to discuss with her counterparts–particularly Skuratov–joint anti-economic crime measures, including those to counter “the illegal export of currency from Russia.”

The articles in “Novae izvestia” and “Nezavisimaya gazeta” which the source was referring to contained corruption allegations against top officials of the Primakov government–specifically, Yuri Maslyukov and Gennady Kulik, Primakov’s two top deputies. One of the articles, however–in “Nezavisimaya gazeta”–included accusations against top former and current officials in Russia’s Central Bank and finance ministry concerning illegal profits made on GKOs, Russia’s defunct short-term treasury bills. In addition, the weekly publication “Versiya” reported last month that Skuratov was in possession of material allegedly showing that “huge sums” were used to renovate Kremlin apartments and government offices, and that other “fantastic” sums “left Russia and settled in the accounts of a foreign bank” (see the Monitor, February 16).