Boris Berezovsky failed during yesterday’s London press conference to make a compelling case that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was involved in the September 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk. This, however, apparently had no effect on the Kremlin’s determination to prosecute Berezovsky, and the authorities leveled new charges against the rebel oligarch. Pavel Barkovsky, deputy chief of the special investigative unit at the Prosecutor General’s Office, showed a group of Moscow journalists yesterday the videotaped testimony of an unidentified witness who claimed that the March 5, 1999 kidnapping of Interior Ministry General Gennady Shpigun at the airport in Djohar (Grozny), the Chechen capital, was carried out “at Berezovsky’s request.” Shpigun’s kidnappers–reported at various times to be different Chechen rebel warlords–demanded a ransom of US$15 million for his release. Shpigun’s body was found in southern Chechnya in March 2000.
The witness, whose face was blacked out and voice electronically altered on the tape, claimed that Shpigun knew too much “about the character of the interaction of Shamil Basaev and Movladi Udugov with Vakha Arsanov”–all of whom are high-level Chechen rebel officials–“and their joint business in kidnapping people.” The witness also claimed that “a Georgian by the name of Badri”–an apparent reference to long-time Berezovsky associate Badri Patarkatsishvili–transferred 30 million rubles (over US$1 million) to Kazbek Makhashev, who was a vice premier in the separatist government of Aslan Maskhadov, to help in the preparations for the August 1999 military attack by Chechnya-based Islamic militants into Dagestan. That raid helped spark Moscow’s military intervention both in Dagestan and in Chechnya in the wake of the apartment building bombings the following month. Finally, the witness on the tape claimed “Berezovsky enjoys close relations, including in business, with the well-known Chechen criminal organization in Moscow [led by] Khozhakmed Nukhaev and Movladi Atlangeriev.” In fact, the second person cited by the witness is named Ruslan Atlangeriev, not Movladi Atlangeriev.
While the Prosecutor General’s Office yesterday did not formally charge Berezovsky with any crime in connection with the Shpigun kidnapping, Barkovsky said that an international arrest warrant would be issued for Berezovsky if and when “enough evidence” were collected (Kommersant, Moscow Times, March 6). In January, the Prosecutor General’s Office launched a new criminal investigation into allegations that Berezovsky helped create and finance “illegal armed formations”–meaning the Chechen rebels. He has thus far not been formally charged in connection with that investigation. Berezovsky has been charged with large-scale embezzlement and money laundering in connection with his alleged role in misappropriating funds from Aeroflot, the state airline.