In yet another indication of the degree to which Kremlin decisionmaking remains a black box, the Russian press over the last twenty-four hours has been filled with reports about several personnel changes at the highest levels of the government, while the Kremlin itself is denying that such changes have been made. Dmitry Yakushkin, President Boris Yeltsin’s spokesman, said today that the Kremlin had “no documents whatsoever” concerning the resignation of acting Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, (Russian agencies, July 30). Russian agencies yesterday reported that Chaika had been transferred from the Prosecutor General’s office to the post of deputy secretary of Yeltsin’s advisory Security Council (see the Monitor, July 29).
Today’s newspapers gave prominent play to Chaika’s reported transfer. Many observers believe that Chaika had become a threat to influential members of the Kremlin inner circle, particularly Boris Berezovsky, by his giving approval for an investigation to be resumed into the Swiss firm Andava, reportedly controlled by Berezovsky and allegedly the conduit for hundreds of million of dollars from the state airline Aeroflot. Earlier this month, prosecutors searched and seized documents from a Moscow-based law firm reportedly founded by Andava and linked to the alleged illegal transfer of Aeroflot funds (see the Monitor, July 15, 21). As one newspaper put it today, citing sources in the Prosecutor General’s Office, “not one high-profile case connected to well-known figures in the Russian business and political elite has been “frozen” under him [Chaika]” (Izvestia, July 30). Another newspaper, citing unnamed “high-level” officials in the government and the Prosecutor General’s Office, said that Chaika’s main sin was not that he refused to toss out criminal investigations involving Berezovsky and other members of the Kremlin inner circle, but that he did not pursue with sufficient vigor the investigation into Yuri Skuratov, whom Chaika replaced upon becoming acting prosecutor general (Segodnya, July 30). Earlier this year, Skuratov was suspended after state television showed a video allegedly showing Skuratov in bed with two call girls.
Earlier this month, Chaika went on a holiday, prior to which he transferred his powers as acting prosecutor general to Vladimir Ustinov, deputy prosecutor general in charge of the North Caucasus region and a figure described in the press as being more to the Kremlin inner circle’s liking. If Chaika has indeed been transferred out of his post, however, his replacement by Ustinov might not be legal, given that an acting prosecutor general cannot appoint another acting prosecutor general without the nomination being ratified by the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament (Segodnya, July 30).
In any case, the Chaika imbroglio may be an indicator of how worried the Kremlin inner circle is over the various investigations into high-level corruption. According to veteran Kremlin-watcher Sergei Chugaev, Berezovsky and other insiders are particularly concerned about the independent investigations being carried out by Swiss prosecutors into alleged moneylaundering and other crimes connected to both the Aeroflot case and the one involving the Swiss construction firm Mabetex and the Kremlin property management department, headed by long-time Yeltsin associate Pavel Borodin. The latter investigation has reportedly already led to the freezing of Swiss bank accounts held by a number of top Russian officials, including Borodin. Chugaev reports that, according to Swiss law, information from the Swiss investigations can be made public at a certain stage before the investigations are completed. This, he says, could make top Russian officials and their families personae non grata throughout Europe and even beyond, and turn Russia into a pariah. Chugaev also says that Carla Del Ponte, Switzerland’s top prosecutor, sees the cases as a springboard to a top European Union post, and that the cases are a matter of “honor” for her, given that Swiss prosecutors last year lost their case against alleged Russian mob boss Sergei Mikhailov (Komsomolskaya pravda, July 30).
…OR THE FIRINGS OF THE TAX CHIEF AND A DEPUTY KREMLIN ADMINISTRATION HEAD.