Magazine article Newsweek International

Indicting the Oligarchs : Russia's Intrigues Get Even More Dangerous

Magazine article Newsweek International

Indicting the Oligarchs : Russia's Intrigues Get Even More Dangerous

Article excerpt

Three weeks ago, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, in an interview with NEWSWEEK, said he personally knew of no reason that Russia's most notorious "oligarch," Boris Berezovsky, might be arrested. But, he added pointedly, "it's really a matter for the law- enforcement authorities."

Last week those authorities took the matter in hand. On Tuesday Russia's controversial chief prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, approved a warrant for the arrest of Berezovsky, a businessman known as much for his close ties to Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin as he is for the wealth he accumulated since the demise of the Soviet Union. He was accused of illegally siphoning revenue from Aeroflot, the Russian airline in which he allegedly holds a stake. Hours later, the prosecutor's office lobbed another bombshell: it also seeks the arrest of Aleksandr Smolensky, another of Moscow's oligarchs, on an embezzlement charge. Smolensky runs SBS Agro, a large bank in which Berezovsky shares an interest. Smolensky, who has been in Vienna since February "recovering from the flu," according to his lawyer, denied any wrongdoing.

Berezovsky, who was in Paris, quickly held a press conference. He denied the charges, said he had nothing to do with Aeroflot (an assertion banking sources in Moscow have flatly contradicted), insisted he would return to Russia to fight the charges and said the indictment had much more to do with politics than the rule of law. On the last point, there was no doubt he was right. Primakov is known to loathe Berezovsky, and going after him is politically popular in a country reeling from economic collapse.

But the politics of the indictment are more complicated than that--and are potentially explosive. Skuratov himself is in the midst of a bitter battle with Yeltsin's Kremlin. Strongly backed by the communist- dominated legislature, Skuratov has threatened to bring corruption charges against members of Yeltsin's inner circle--including his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. …

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