Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 80

On April 19 the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, has finally removed Yuri Skuratov as the country’s prosecutor general. The request to vote, brought by President-elect Vladimir Putin, passed 133 to 10, with 6 abstentions (Russian agencies, April 19). According to Russia’s constitution, a president must get the approval of the Federation Council in either naming or removing a prosecutor general. Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, repeatedly asked the Federation Council to fire Skuratov, but was rebuffed. Skuratov was suspended from his post last year after becoming the object of an investigation into alleged abuse of office (see the Monitor, April 5, 1999).

Skuratov became one of Russia’s more controversial figures in Russian politics during late 1998 and 1999 after he launched a number of investigations into alleged high-level corruption, and exchanged information related to the cases with his counterparts in Switzerland. One of those cases involved Mabetex, a Swiss construction-engineering firm which allegedly paid kickbacks to top Russian officials in return for lucrative contracts to refurbish Russian government buildings, including the Kremlin. Earlier this year, the Swiss authorities issued an arrest warrant for Pavel Borodin, former head of the Kremlin’s “property management” department, for money laundering in connection with the Mabetex case (see the Monitor, January 28, March 30). According to various press reports over the last year or so, the Swiss authorities discovered and froze bank accounts belonging to more than twenty top Russian officials, including Borodin (see the Monitor, July 15, 1999). Other media have alleged that Mabetex provided Yeltsin and his two daughters with credit cards (see the Monitor, September 9, 1999).

Skuratov also launched the probe into Andava and Forus, two Swiss companies reportedly set up by Boris Berezovsky which allegedly misappropriated hard-currency revenues earned by Aeroflot, Russia’s state airline. Last year, Russian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Berezovsky in connection with the case, but the warrant was later rescinded. Yet another of Skuratov’s investigations involved allegations that 780 Russian government officials had profited from insider trading involving GKOs, Russia’s short-term treasury bills, during the weeks leading up to the August 1998 financial meltdown. Skuratov named Anatoly Chubais, Russia’s privatization architect, as being among them. This case subsequently dovetailed with the investigation involving the alleged laundering of money from Russian institutions into the Bank of New York. Last autumn, the newspaper USA Today, citing unnamed U.S., British and Russian investigators, reported that Chubais and former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev were among the officials who had so profited and subsequently deposited the proceeds into foreign bank accounts. Both men denied the charge (see the Monitor, September 15, 1999). In a 1999 interview, Skuratov claimed that the GKO market had been “a washing machine for laundering illegally received revenues of top officials and representatives of the criminal world” (see the Monitor, June 23, 1999).

It will be interesting to see if there is any further movement toward completing these cases. Following his removal this week, Skuratov, who ran as a candidate in the March 26 presidential election, claimed that the investigation into the alleged GKO machinations had been frozen, and that the Prosecutor General’s Office had sufficient proof to bring charges in both the Mabetex and the Aeroflot cases. Nikolai Volkov, the chief investigator in the Aeroflot case, said earlier this year that charges might be brought, but Skuratov said that he was not sure that Volkov had the courage to see the case to completion (Russian agencies, April 19; see also the Monitor, January 28, April 14). Skuratov himself, it should be noted, was far from a pristine figure. He was suspended on the basis of a video purportedly showing him cavorting with two prostitutes who were allegedly provided by a banker who himself was under investigation by Skuratov’s office (see the Monitor, April 6, 1999). Skuratov is also being investigated for allegedly having received fourteen suits from Borodin’s office, courtesy of none other than Mabetex (see the Monitor, October 14, 1999).

According to a report yesterday, the most likely candidates to replace Skuratov are Vladimir Ustinov, the current acting prosecutor general, and Viktor Cherkesov, the first deputy chairman of the Federal Security Service and a long-time associate of Putin. Like the president-elect, Cherkesov made his career in the Soviet-era KGB (NTV, April 23).