Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 136

The general prosecutor in Geneva, Switzerland has opened an investigation into alleged moneylaundering by Russians, with those being investigated including Pavel Borodin (the Kremlin administration’s property manager and a close associate of President Boris Yeltsin), Borodin’s wife and twenty-two others, among whom, reportedly, are other top officials. Other than Borodin and his wife, no other Russian VIPs have been specifically named as targets of the investigators.

Borodin’s Kremlin property department had been the target of an investigation by Yuri Skuratov, who was suspended as Russia’s prosecutor general early this year. Skuratov’s department was looking into alleged embezzlement of state funds and moneylaundering connected to multimillion dollar contracts which Mabetex, a Swiss construction company, had won from Borodin’s department to refurbish the Kremlin and other Russian government buildings. Skuratov requested–and, apparently, received–assistance in the investigation from Swiss Federal Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. According to allegations in the Russian press, Mabetex received the contracts in return for hefty kickbacks to Borodin and other Russian officials. Some Russian media published what they said was data from a joint bank account held by Borodin’s daughter and Mabetex president Bahgjet Pacolli, and alleged that searches of Borodin’s office and apartment by Russian prosecutors turned up evidence that some US$100 million were wired to personal accounts in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas (Komsomolskaya pravda, April 13). In any case, for one project, the restoration of the Kremlin building housing President Boris Yeltsin’s office, Mabetex received US$14,000 per square meter, which is nearly five times more than what is typically paid for top-of-the-line construction or renovation projects in Moscow and elsewhere.

Both Borodin and Mabetex’s officials have denied any wrongdoing. Skuratov, for his part, says that his probe into the Kremlin’s relations with Mabetex was the main reason for his suspension earlier this year and the airing on state television of a fragment from a video allegedly showing him in bed with two call-girls.

The Swiss criminal investigation means that the Swiss authorities are no longer simply fulfilling a request for help from their Russia counterparts, but now feel they have the basis for prosecuting violations of Swiss laws, presumably those covering moneylaundering. Borodin today denied that either he or his wife have Swiss bank accounts or that he engaged in “commercial activity” in Switzerland. He said the accusations were politically motivated, calling it a “dirty campaign” with “political undertones” (Russian agencies, July 15). In comments quoted today, Borodin’s lawyer, Boris Kuznetsov, called the new Swiss probe “a purely political action against the president of Russia initiated by Swiss Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte” and charged that Del Ponte was colluding with Skuratov in order to save Skuratov’s reputation (Kommersant, July 15).