Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 165

Russian President Boris Yeltsin spoke to U.S. President Bill Clinton yesterday in what White House officials called a planned telephone call. During the call, which Yeltsin initiated, Clinton asked about allegations that Yeltsin and his family had received more than US$1 million in kickbacks from Mabetex, the Swiss construction firm which had received lucrative contracts to refurbish Russian government buildings. Yeltsin, according to U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, denied the charges (CNN, September 8).

The conversation took place the same day that The Washington Post detailed the Mabetex bribery charges in its lead article, citing law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, who are investigating the allegations. Mabetex is said to have paid tens of thousands of dollars in bills charged to credit cards in the names of Yeltsin and his two daughters, and transferred US$1 million in 1994 to a Hungarian bank for Yeltsin’s use (Washington Post, September 8).

The Post’s allegations basically repeated reports which recently appeared in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. But the fact that they made the front page of the Post may account for Yeltsin’s telephone call to Clinton.

Yeltsin was not alone in protesting his innocence. Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin property department and one of the Russian officials named in press reports for alleged involvement in the Mabetex kickback case, said this week that he plans to sue Corriere della Serra for “besmirching” his “honor and dignity” (Russian agencies, September 8). The Italian paper has charged that Borodin held a joint bank account with Mabetex director Behgjet Paccoli, repeating the charge made by the Russian weekly Versiya earlier this year.

The proliferation of press reports detailing the Mabetex case have come concurrently with the scandal involving moneylaundering, which allegedly includes funds from the International Monetary Fund, through the Bank of New York. U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers repeated yesterday that he is concerned about reports of corruption, and that further IMF funding will be contingent on an accounting of how past loans were used (CNN, September 8; see the Monitor, September 7).