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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Swiss, Skuratov Tackle Kremlin Remont

Swiss prosecutors say they're investigating whether high-ranking Russian officials were paid "large amounts of money" to help a Lugano firm win contracts to help renovate the Kremlin, the State Duma and the White House.

Officials at the construction company, Mabetex, vigorously deny paying off any officials and say they won the tenders in fair competition.

"Believe me, we have not given a single cent to anyone," a company official, who declined to be identified, said by telephone from Switzerland on Tuesday.

The statements by Swiss prosecutors follow the Jan. 22 search of Mabetex's office in the presence of Swiss Attorney General Carla Del Ponte. The Swiss Attorney General's office said law enforcers acted after Russian Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov requested assistance in November.

"This request [of Skuratov's] is part of a penal procedure against several high members of the Russian federal administration because of corruption and abuse of authority," according to a written response by Swiss prosecutors to questions from The Moscow Times.

The statement did not identify any of the Russian officials, but noted that they are "suspected of having received a great deal of money to help the firm get large contracts for planning and realizing the renovation of some important buildings."

During the search of Mabetex offices, Swiss law enforcers confiscated "many documents" which "must now be studied before the procedure can continue," according to the statement. Neither Swiss nor Russian prosecutors would provide further information.

Interfax reported Monday that Swiss Attorney General Del Ponte would come to Moscow this week to meet with Skuratov. But neither Del Ponte's nor Skuratov's office could confirm or deny that report Tuesday.

The Swiss statement's reference to a "penal procedure" underway targeting Russian officials seemed to suggest that top Russian officials are facing criminal charges brought by Skuratov but not yet made public.

The statement did not name Mabetex itself as a target of any criminal charges or accuse the company of breaking any laws, Swiss or Russian.

The case has been mentioned in Russian newspaper speculation as one possible reason behind Skuratov's sudden resignation Feb. 1.

But it is only one of several high-profile corruption probes and accusations launched by Skuratov's office that could have triggered retaliation from influential enemies.

The Mabetex official confirmed that his company's offices were raided and documents seized. The official, however, said that the company won all of its contracts at tenders and that the company enjoyed no special relations with any top Russian bureaucrats.

He also said the raiders confronted him with a list of Russian officials suspected of corruption. He said the list originated from the Russian Prosecutor General's Office.

The Mabetex manager said he has testified that he knew some people on the list. But he wouldn't name names.

Mabetex, a 600-employee company with 11 subsidiaries in 10 countries, was the leading contractor in constructing Kazakhstan's new capital of Astana and has done several high-profile projects in Russia.

Mabetex was involved in the conversion of the former Gosplan Building on Okhotny Ryad for use by the State Duma, the renovation of the Kremlin-owned Golden Ring Hotel, and the repair of the White House government headquarters after Yeltsin ordered it shelled in a confrontation with parliament in 1993.

The company's website pictures company president Behgjet Pacolli with President Boris Yeltsin, with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and with a group of Russian officials including Yeltsin's powerful chief of household affairs, Pavel Borodin, who oversees Kremlin and other government buildings in Moscow.

According to the Independent newspaper, Pacolli was intermediary for the purchase of two British-made motor yachts, costing more than $490,000 in late 1997, for Yeltsin and his retinue. The newspaper quoted Pacolli saying he mediated the deal, although the vice president of Mabetex, Dmitry Amunts, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the company played no such role.

Other potential reasons for his resignation include political retaliation over probes against companies linked to controversial billionaire Boris Berezovsky and to accusations by Skuratov that the Central Bank had engaged in questionable practices by placing foreign currency reserves with a little-known offshore company.

Skuratov submitted his resignation on grounds of ill health - a reason few believe - and has not commented publicly on the various scenarios. After disappearing for a while, he returned to work last week while awaiting Wednesday's session of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, where the resignation is to be taken up. The Federation Council has so far refused to accept the resignation, and may leave Skuratov in his post.