Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 64

While the State Duma’s decision not to challenge Boris Yeltsin’s immunity deal has probably precluded further controversy over the issue, at least for the time being, corruption allegations involving some of the ex-president’s erstwhile cronies could again come to the fore. Daniel Devaud, an investigator with the Swiss Prosecutor’s Office in Geneva has confirmed that Swiss authorities earlier this year signed an arrest warrant for Pavel Borodin, the former head of the Kremlin’s “property management” department and a long-time Yeltsin associate, on charges of money laundering. There have been contradictory reports in the Russian media about whether the Swiss authorities issued a warrant for Borodin’s arrest or simply subpoenaed him as a witness (see the Monitor, January 28). Devaud made it clear that he had personally signed the warrant for Borodin’s arrest and that it “was more than possible” that the Swiss authorities would announce charges against other Russian citizens in connection with the so-called “Mabetex” case (Kommersant, March 30). In response to Devaud’s comments, Borodin said today that the Swiss investigator had “no legal grounds whatsoever” for the warrant, which, he said, is “just another bluff” by the Swiss authorities (Russian agencies, March 30).

Last year, Borodin was named in media reports concerning allegations that Mabetex, a Swiss construction-engineering firm, had given top Russian officials kickbacks in exchange for lucrative Russian government construction and renovation projects, and that the proceeds had been laundered in Swiss banks. Mabetex is also alleged to have provided credit cards for Yeltsin and his two daughters. The Russian investigation into the Mabetex case was launched by then Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov, who later cited it as the main reason why Yeltsin suspended him last year as prosecutor general. Borodin, who has repeatedly denied the bribery and money laundering accusations, was removed from his Kremlin post earlier this year, but was named state secretary of the Russian-Belarus Union, on the recommendation of then acting President Vladimir Putin (see the Monitor, January 13). There has been some debate in the Russian press over whether Borodin’s new post gives him immunity from prosecution. He is likely to be immune de facto, as long as he does not travel to Switzerland or any third country likely to extradite him to Switzerland. Indeed, Devaud said today that he has no contacts at all with his counterparts in the Russian prosecutor general’s office. Meanwhile, Russian media have speculated that the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, which repeatedly turned down the Kremlin’s request to remove Skuratov as prosecutor general formally, is likely to do so soon.

Putin’s apparent protection of Borodin would seem to be at variance with his promise to fight corruption, reduce the political influence of “oligarchs” and other special interests and create a “dictatorship of the law.” It makes a certain amount of sense, however, given Putin’s biography. In a series of recent interviews for the book “In the First Person: Conversations With Vladimir Putin,” Putin revealed that he was brought to Moscow from St. Petersburg in 1996 not at the behest of then Kremlin administration chief Anatoly Chubais, as had previously been widely assumed, but at Borodin’s urging. Putin, who subsequently worked as Borodin’s deputy, said in one of the interviews that Borodin was entitled to the “presumption of innocence.” In another, Putin called Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky a “traitor” for allegedly working for the Chechen rebels and questioned whether he deserved the protection of Russian law. Putin’s comments on Borodin and Babitsky were cut from the final version of the book (see the Monitor, March 17).

Meanwhile, Boris Gryzlov, head of the Unity faction in the State Duma, said yesterday that seven of the Duma’s nine factions were backing former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin to head the Audit Chamber, the independent federal agency set up by the parliament in the last decade to keep track of how federal money is spent (Russian agencies, March 30). The Audit Chamber has often been at odds with the Kremlin (though decreasingly so in recent years), which would probably like to see someone like Stepashin, who has the reputation of a loyal servant, in that post.