Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 161

Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, the Geneva magistrate who is leading an investigation into the alleged diversion of a US$4.8 billion International Monetary Fund credit to Russia in the summer of 1998, has again accused the Russian authorities of lack of cooperation in the investigation. In an interview published today, Kasper-Ansermet said that he had told Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov last September that he planned to make an official request for help in his department’s investigation into the Bank of New York (BONY) moneylaundering scandal, but that Ustinov never replied. Kasper-Ansermet also said that Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov failed to respond earlier this year to an official request for urgent assistance in the case (Segodnya, August 31).

During last year’s BONY scandal, anonymous Western law enforcement officials were quoted as saying that billion of dollars in IMF aid to Russia had been diverted to BONY. Last month, Kasper-Ansermet ordered raids on banks in the Swiss canton of Ticino and in Geneva in connection with the Swiss side of the BONY case. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted a letter written by Kasper-Ansermet as saying that part or all of the stabilization credit was suspected of having been diverted to various banks, including the Bank of Sydney, National Westminster of London, Credit Suisse and BONY, after passing through the New York-based Republic National Bank and several European affiliates of Russia’s Central Bank. La Repubblica also alleged that Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia’s prime minister who was a deputy finance minister in the summer of 1998, was responsible for the IMF credit’s strange movements (see the Monitor, July 17).

In his interview, Kasper-Ansermet claims that an audit carried out by the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which both the Russian authorities and the IMF say shows that the IMF credit was not misused (see the Monitor, July 21), in fact does not precisely show how it was used. He also says that while in the United States he “unsuccessfully attempted to establish contact with IMF officials,” but that he had useful meetings with FBI officials and members of Congress (Segodnya, August 31). Last month, in the wake of the La Repubblica allegations, Martin Gilman, head of the IMF’s Moscow office, said that the Swiss authorities had not approached the Fund in connection with an investigation of the alleged diversion of the IMF credit (see the Monitor, July 21).

Last week, Nikolai Volkov, a top investigator in the Prosecutor General’s Office, was forced to resign. Volkov was leading the investigation into the alleged diversion of funds from Aeroflot, the Russian state airline, through two Swiss companies allegedly controlled by the tycoon Boris Berezovsky. But in July, during a trip to Switzerland, Volkov also said he would discuss with his superiors the possibility of investigating the alleged diversion of the IMF credit (Moscow Times, August 23, July 29). He later backed off the second statement. Several days after Volkov’s sacking, prosecutors in Montreux, Switzerland, raided the headquarters of Runicom, a firm which acts as a trader for Sibneft, the giant Russian oil company reportedly controlled by State Duma deputy and reputed Kremlin insider Roman Abramovich. Bernard Bertossa, the chief prosecutor of Geneva, said the raid was related to the investigation into the diversion of the IMF credit (Segodnya, August 24; Moscow Times, August 25).

While it is true that the Russian police raided Sibneft’s Moscow offices and seized documents there the day prior to the Swiss raid on Runicom, some observers said that they felt the Russian raid was merely an attempt by the Kremlin to give the appearance of even-handedness in its dealings with the country’s powerful tycoons. In fact, the Russian authorities’ lack of cooperation with Laurent Kasper-Ansermet and the dismissal of Volkov raise serious questions about President Vladimir Putin’s ability or willingness to mount a genuine fight against corruption and the undue influence of powerful “oligarchs.”