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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PARTY LINES: Russia's Leader In Anti-Graft Fight Is Swiss




It has become de rigeur to hold forth against corruption. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Michel Camdessus recently did in St. Petersburg, and Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin does so regularly. But while the changing rhetoric is welcome, talk is, as they say, cheap. It is enough to remember that President Boris Yeltsin announced the first of his many anti-corruption campaigns back in 1992. Their failure should have made it clear that fighting corruption here is, as Alexander Lebed once put it, like shadow boxing.


This week saw a fresh example of Russian authorities' selectivity when it comes to corruption: The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the legality of an investigation into alleged abuses of office by Yury Skuratov, the suspended prosecutor general. Meanwhile, according to Skuratov himself and various media, the anti-corruption cases Skuratov launched - involving the Central Bank, the business activities of several key "oligarchs" and, most importantly, the Kremlin itself - have been frozen.


Skuratov is no Russian Frank Serpico. Various media have reported that Skuratov's alleged romp with two call girls was arranged (and filmed) by several bankers whose own activities were under investigation. Skuratov's investigations, apparently, were also partly instigated by the Kremlin's opponents in the State Duma and elsewhere.


But there is another person involved in these investigations, one who has no dog in Russia's domestic political fight - Swiss federal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. She, as Kommersant noted Thursday, reportedly supplied Skuratov last March with "valuable operational information on bank accounts of the presidential entourage."


Del Ponte is no novice in such matters: She played a key role in ferreting out more than $130 million deposited into Swiss banks by Raul Salinas, brother of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas - much of which, prosecutors in both countries believe, came from payments made by Colombian drug cartels. Raul Salinas was sentenced to 50 years for murder in January, while Carlos Salinas remains in exile. The prosecution of Raul Salinas was pushed by Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, Carlos Salinas' hand-picked successor. The potential parallels cannot be lost on the Kremlin.


Yet Del Ponte's joint efforts with Skuratov are viewed with suspicion not only here. The Swiss foreign ministry, at the request of its Russian counterpart, has reportedly forbidden Swiss officials from meeting with Skuratov or sharing information with him, should his planned trip to Switzerland, at Del Ponte's invitation, ever materialize. On Thursday, a Swiss member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly accused Del Ponte of leaking confidential information and interfering in Russia's internal affairs. Curiously, these things happened in the same week Switzerland agreed to help track down funds allegedly stashed away by Slobodan Milosevic.


"The question of the best means to employ to prevent a conspiracy from arising in high places with the object of obtaining immunity from the law is one of the most difficult political problems to solve," the French philosopher Simone Weil wrote more than a half century ago. "It can only be solved if there are men whose duty it is to prevent such a conspiracy, and whose situation in life is such that they are not tempted to enter it themselves."


When it come to Russia, those "men," it seems, are a Swiss woman.