Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 154

The closure of the Russian daily “Kommersant” took place amidst a continuing battle between media loyal to the Kremlin inner circle and those sympathetic to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the new Fatherland-All Russia coalition. Each side has attempted to use against the other the series of articles last week in the “New York Times,” concerning an investigation by British and U.S. law enforcement into the alleged laundering of at least US$4.2 billion–and possibly as much as US$10 billion–from Russia through the Bank of New York. The “Times” reported that the investigation was focusing on two of the bank’s top executives charged with overseeing Russia-related accounts. One of them, Natasha Kagalovska, is married to Konstantin Kagalovsky, currently vice president of the Yukos oil company, who was once a top executive in Bank Menatep and Russia’s representative to the International Monetary Fund. According to the “Times,” investigators believe that part of the laundered money came from Semyon Mogilevich, a reputed Russian mafia boss based in Budapest, while other funds may have come from Bank Menatep (New York Times, August 19, 22). “The Wall Street Journal” reported yesterday that investigators are also looking into whether US$200 million from IMF credits to Russia wound up in the Bank of New York (Wall Street Journal, August 23).

Three days ago (August 21), “Novoe izvestia,” a newspaper owned by the tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, charged that Semyon Mogilevich was linked to AFK Sistema, the financial-industrial group linked to Luzhkov and the Moscow city government, and that both Mogilevich and Sistema were linked to Moscow’s powerful Solntsevo organized crime group (Novoe izvestia, August 21). Yesterday, in an apparent response, the pro-Luzhkov newspaper “Moskovsky komsomolets” (M-K) linked the investigation into the Bank of New York with last week’s reported freezing of Swiss bank accounts belonging to Berezovsky. The paper alleged that for several years British law enforcement had been investigating companies linked to Russian aluminum kingpin Lev Chorny for suspected money laundering, and that not long ago Chorny had opened a number of firms in Switzerland after conducting intensive negotiations with Berezovsky concerning the purchase of “Kommersant.” M-K also claimed that Chorny was linked with both Mogilevich and Bank Menatep, and that Swiss prosecutors discovered that money from the “Russian mafia” accounts in the Bank of New York had made its way to Berezovsky’s Swiss accounts (Moskovsky komsomolets, August 23).