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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Charges Dropped Against Berezovsky

The Prosecutor General's Office dropped criminal charges of illegal business activity against politically connected tycoon Boris Berezovsky, the chief investigator in the case said Friday.

Nikolai Volkov said documents received so far from Switzerland have not supported the charges that Berezovsky was behind an alleged scheme to funnel off hundreds of millions of dollars in hard-currency proceeds from Aeroflot.

Berezovsky will remain a witness in the case, the investigator said, adding that former Aeroflot executives Nikolai Glushkov and Alexander Krasnenker remain under investigation. Volkov didn't rule out that new charges could be filed against Berezovsky if evidence against him appears.

Volkov was quick to denounce any accusations that the decision was politically motivated. "When we filed charges against him we were accused of carrying out political orders," he said. "Now we are accused of servicing political interests as well. ... The prosecutor's office always has to be on the defense."

But Yury Skuratov, the suspended prosecutor general, said the dropping of the charges "looks strange." He said he was "aware of pressure applied to Volkov, that first and foremost it comes from Boris Abramovich [Berezovsky] himself."

"I don't think this was done without political underpinnings," Skuratov said in a telephone interview. It was on his watch that the case into Berezovsky were opened in February. Skuratov's investigations into alleged Kremlin corruption angered President Boris Yeltsin, who suspended him in early April.

Volkov said he dropped the charges Thursday in response to a request filed the day before by Berezovsky's lawyer.

Similar appeals, including requests to drop the criminal investigation altogether, have been filed almost every week since the investigation began, Volkov said, "But we turned them down because we expected additional documents from Switzerland to arrive."

When in late October the Swiss sent materials describing the "schemes for moving Aeroflot's money," Volkov said they did not support charges of illegal business activity against Berezovsky.

"Berezovsky seemingly had nothing to do with Aeroflot and we had to meet the lawyers demands," the investigator said. Some of the actions were ... not serious enough because he was not a manager of the Aeroflot. The materials we got from Switzerland didn't demonstrate his direct involvement with activities of companies investigated in Switzerland."

In April, the Prosecutor General's Office charged Berezovsky with "illegal business activity," money laundering and conducting business activities while in a government position. An arrest warrant had been issued for the businessman while he was in France, but it was quietly dropped after he appeared in Moscow for questioning.

The charges against him stemmed from a large-scale investigation into the skimming of hard-currency earnings from Aeroflot. The investigation began in February, at the same time as Russian law enforcement agencies were carrying out searches at several companies reported linked to Berezovsky.

At the time, the moves were largely seen as part of an offensive by then- Prime Minster Yevgeny Primakov against the Kremlin-connected tycoon.

In the Aeroflot case, Swiss and Russian investigators focused on Andava SA and Forus Services SA, two companies in Lausanne, Switzerland, that provided the Russian airline with financial services. Berezovsky was among the investors in both companies.

Executives at both companies have said that at least by 1996 Berezovsky had ceased to be a shareholder. Before that, they said, he rarely got involved in day-to-day operations.

This summer, Swiss prosecutors raided the offices of both companies and froze their bank accounts. Berezovsky's Swiss bank accounts also were frozen; Volkov said they remained frozen.

Investigators also have looked into possible links between the Aeroflot case and the U.S. probe into money laundering at the Bank of New York.

Berezovsky has denied accusations of wrongdoing. "I am satisfied that the investigator, Volkov, showed objectivity," Interfax quoted him as saying Friday. Berezovsky said he was sure the charges against Glushkov and Krasnenker would be dropped "very soon."

Volkov said he has received another invitation from Swiss prosecutors to do more joint work in Switzerland. He spent 10 days working in Switzerland in September.

Volkov said a thorough analysis of a new batch of documents could lead to new, "even more serious" charges against Berezovsky.

Skuratov said he was at least glad that prosecutors have not closed the entire case, but he questioned the timing.

"Look, this is just like having your spoon provided just as your soup is served," he said. "The charges are dropped exactly at the time when he is running for a State Duma seat."

Berezovsky, a former deputy secretary of the presidential Security Council and executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, is running in a single-mandate district in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, a small mountainous republic in the North Caucasus.

In a September interview, Skuratov said he would reveal details of the investigations into high-level corruption if he saw the investigations being shut down. On Friday, he said the time to go public has not yet arrived.

"Right now, you can scream your lungs out, but the criminal justice system is in the hands of the political establishment," Skuratov said. "The Kremlin practically controls the prosecutor's office."