Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 172

On September 16, a delegation headed by Swiss Federal Prosecutor Valentin Roschacher ended a three-day visit to Moscow. The Swiss officials reportedly handed over to their Russian counterparts “several packages” of materials related to the so-called Aeroflot case, involving the alleged embezzlement of hundreds of million of dollars by two Swiss firms linked to Boris Berezovsky (Russian agencies, September 16).

In August, Nikolai Volkov, the chief investigator from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office in the Aeroflot case, was forced to resign from his post after returning from Switzerland with hundreds of boxes of documents related to the case, along with material related to a separate Swiss investigation into the alleged 1998 diversion of US$4.8 billion in aid to Russia from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Just prior to leaving Switzerland, Volkov suggested that the Russian authorities might begin their own investigation into the alleged diversion of IMF funds (see the Monitor, July 31). Volkov said subsequently that the Aeroflot case was the reason for his removal and that at the time of his removal he was just two to three months away from being able to name and arrest those guilty of committing crimes in the case, whom he did not name (see the Monitor, September 9). Back in 1999, when Yevgeny Primakov was prime minister, Volkov filed charges against Berezovsky for allegedly funneling Aeroflot funds through two Swiss firms under his control, Andava and Forus. An order for Berezovsky’s arrest was issued, but was later rescinded, after Primakov was removed from office.

Last week, the visiting Swiss prosecutors reportedly also asked their Russian counterparts about the so-called Mabetex case, involving the alleged payment of kickbacks by several Swiss companies to top Russian officials in return for lucrative contracts to refurbish Russian government buildings. Last week, various media published a letter sent in July from Swiss investigating magistrate Daniel Devaud to Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov. This letter detailed the alleged laundering of kickbacks paid to the Swiss company Mercata Trading and Engineering by the Kremlin property management department and asked for help in investigating fourteen people charged in the case. The letter named former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin and members of his family as having been charged with money laundering and participation in a criminal organization. The Russian side has not yet responded (see the Monitor, September 14).

According to various media, the Russian side had hoped that Roschacher’s visit would quell speculation that Moscow not happy about the Swiss authorities’ aggressive probes into cases involving alleged corruption by top Russian officials (Russian agencies, September 17). These hopes apparently came to naught. Over the weekend, the Swiss prosecutor’s office released a statement saying that in order to restore the “atmosphere of trust necessary for successful international cooperation,” the Russian authorities would have to demonstrate “the will to use material collected in Switzerland in criminal cases.” Meanwhile, Geneva prosecutor Bernard Bertossa was quoted as asking why, given the detailed nature of the charges outlined in the July letter concerning the Mabetex case, the Russian judicial authorities had not “lifted a finger” in regard to the case. Bertossa also claimed that the Russian authorities, “without any explanation,” cancelled a visit to Geneva by investigators from the Prosecutor General’s Office in connection with the Mabetex case. “The impression is growing that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office is not capable of freeing itself from dependence on the political authorities,” said Bertossa, who added: “We are nonetheless continuing to do our work” (Segodnya, September 18). Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, the Geneva magistrate who is leading the investigation into the alleged diversion of the IMF credit, has accused the Russian authorities of lack of cooperation in the investigation (see the Monitor, August 31).