WHY BORODIN SITS…
Pavel Borodin, once the toast of the Kremlin cronies, could not resist an invitation to the Bush inaugural. As a result, he sits tonight in a Brooklyn jail while Swiss authorities seek his extradition.
In Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, Borodin ran the Kremlin’s property office, a multibillion-dollar collection of airlines, resorts, hospitals, residential and commercial real estate, and other assets that once belonged to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Borodin could cut government officials in or out on the favors and deals that could make them rich. Vladimir Putin had worked for him in 1998-1999. With his friends in high places and ready access to foreign currency–a substantial portion of property-office holdings is outside Russia–Borodin seemed certain of shelter on a rainy day.
But his position began to weaken as Boris Yeltsin’s presidency came to an end in December 1999. Swiss prosecutors were closing in on his role in a kickback and moneylaundering scheme to which they had been tipped by Yeltsin’s nemesis, former Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov. The case involved various property-office contracts let to Swiss companies at inflated prices. The Swiss firms then allegedly kicked money back into offshore accounts held by the contracting officials and their friends, believed to include President Yeltsin’s daughter.
Putin tried to squelch this case in his first days as acting president. He granted Boris Yeltsin lifetime immunity from prosecution. He eased Borodin out of the property office and into a sinecure as secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union. He persuaded the parliament to accept Skuratov’s dismissal, and Putin’s appointee as prosecutor general closed the case “for lack of evidence.”
But money laundering violates Swiss law, and an infuriated and tenacious Geneva magistrate issued a warrant for Borodin’s arrest. Borodin could have stayed out of trouble by staying at home. But Russia’s five time zones were not big enough to hold him, even with Belarus thrown in. The lure of an invitation to the inauguration of George W. Bush drew him out, as a moth to the flame. The invitation, apparently from the Moscow office of a telecommunications company owned by a Republican Party contributor, reportedly included a “candlelight dinner” and four nights at a luxury hotel.
In Moscow, Russian officials demanded Borodin’s immediate release, but Borodin’s New York lawyer, quoted in the New York Times, said his quarrel is with Switzerland: “The United States government is only doing its duty.” Borodin’s lawyers in Moscow insisted their client was unaware of the Swiss warrant. They should read Jamestown’s daily Monitor, which reported the Swiss warrant on January 28, 2000, and added Borodin’s comments. He called it “complete nonsense.”
In Moscow, Russian officials demanded Borodin’s immediate release. The foreign minister called the American ambassador on the carpet to tell him the arrest was “an extremely unfriendly act.” The “red-brown” (communist-nationalist) forces that generally lined up against Boris Yeltsin used the arrest to bewail both American arrogance and Russian weakness: “Borodin is not the issue-they can arrest any Russian citizen,” one parliamentarian said.
President Putin, however, has kept his silence. Letting Borodin twist in the wind, he may figure, will keep other compromised officials fearful and off balance–no bad thing. Joining in a peacock display of outrage, however, will only engage a losing battle and weaken his position. Besides, the glamour-addled Borodin has no one but himself to blame. Let him rot.