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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Swiss Tie Kremlin to Money-Laundering

Prosecutors in Geneva, Switzerland, said Wednesday that they have opened a criminal money-laundering investigation into top Kremlin official Pavel Borodin, Borodin's wife and 22 others, many of them purportedly highly placed Russian state officials.

The prosecutors said the investigation, opened by the Geneva General Prosecutor Bernard Bertossa, would link Russian officials to money-laundering in Swiss banks. No charges have yet been filed, but Bertossa's staff is checking into whether the 24 people had Geneva bank accounts and how they used them, said investigating magistrate Daniel Deveau.

"We have reason to suspect it was bribe money being laundered," Deveau said in a telephone interview from Geneva on Wednesday evening.

Deveau refused to name the other 22 Russians under investigation. "I don't know what relation they had to Borodin," he said.

Asked if any of the accused had the last name of either Yeltsin or Dyachenko - the married name of Tatyana, Yeltsin's daughter and image adviser - Deveau said no.

"Not yet," he added.

Asked whether entrepreneur and itinerant federal official Boris Berezovsky, a powerful Kremlin insider who has been targeted by Swiss prosecutors in the past, figured in the investigation, Deveau again said no.

Deveau said he had no plans to question or seek the extradition of any Russian officials.

He also stressed that the investigation so far is very preliminary. He said more would be clear next week.

News of the Geneva prosecutor's investigation was apparently broken by a Swiss newspaper on Wednesday. It was by afternoon picked up by The Associated Press. Citing a Swiss judge involved in the case who spoke on condition of anonymity, AP reported out of Geneva that last week Swiss banks had been asked to freeze any assets belonging to either Borodin or the other 23 officials under investigation.

By Wednesday night, few Russian media outlets had reported the story. NTV, which has a history of brave journalism, covered the investigation in its 7 p.m. broadcast. Otherwise, not even wire services like Interfax and Itar-Tass reported the official allegations of money-laundering that reach - for the first time - into the Kremlin itself

So many Swiss-Russian joint investigations of corruption have been underway in recent months that it is difficult to keep track of them all, and Swiss Attorney General Carla del Ponte has even come under fire in Switzerland for getting too involved in "Russian politics."

Del Ponte and Russian prosecutors - most notably former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov, but apparently also his various successors - have repeatedly called on each other's help, most notably in an investigation of the Swiss-based construction firm Mabetex.

Mabetex is run by an expatriate Kosovar Albanian, Bahgjet Pacolli, and has won lucrative construction projects across the former Soviet Union - from renovating the Kremlin under Borodin's careful supervision to rebuilding both the TsUM department store and the international air terminal in Kazakhstan's new capital of Astana.

The company is so well-connected that in April, when the Russian newspaper Segodnya reported that a Russian company had won a bid to refurbish Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, it did so under the headline "Mabetex Loses for a Change."

In March, Russian prosecutors entered the Kremlin to seize documents from Borodin's office related to Mabetex's renovation work. Prosecutors said those lucrative contracts had been won in return for bribes to Kremlin officials.

In April, Borodin's apartment was searched, according to a report at the time in Komsomolskaya Pravda. The newspaper reported that the search turned up documentation of about $100 million in various wire transfers to personal accounts in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas. Komsomolskaya Pravda also reported that the accounts in question were jointly in the name of Borodin's daughter and the Mabetex president.

Borodin later denied those allegations

Earlier this month, del Ponte's office raided several companies in Lausanne, Switzerland, suspected of laundering money from Russia. Del Ponte's spokesman Dominique Reymond said the raids had been carried out at the request of Russian prosecutors.

This week, Russian tax police raided the Moscow offices of a private security firm called Sokol-UNS, and among the documents confiscated were Mabetex seals and letterhead.

On Wednesday, Reymond refused to comment on whether the Geneva prosecutor's investigation was linked to del Ponte's investigation into Mabetex.

Del Ponte's office has also helped Russian prosecutors investigate the Swiss-based company Andava, which until outed earlier this year handled the hard currency revenues of state-owned Aeroflot - a company whose general director, Valery Okulov, is one of President Yeltsin's sons-in-law.

Arch-tycoon Berezovsky was charged in connection with allegations that Andava was an embezzling operation he had set up. But the case seems to have lost momentum with the sackings of both former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a Berezovsky enemy, and Skuratov.

Skuratov was fired by the Kremlin, and when he continued to make noise a videotape showing him cavorting with two prostitutes found its way onto RTR national television. Skuratov has said the video was a blackmail effort aimed at stopping his investigations into Kremlin corruption.

Yeltsin, vacationing in the Tver-region resort of Rus, did not comment Wednesday. Borodin's staff, reached by telephone on Wednesday evening, said Borodin, too, was on vacation and was not available for comment. Borodin's spokeswoman, Galina Khavrayeva, was also unavailable.

Viktor Savchenko, one of Borodin's deputes in charge of maintenance, said he had seen Borodin in the office on Tuesday and Wednesday, but that Borodin was indeed on a planned vacation and by Wednesday evening was probably at his dacha outside Moscow.

No one in Borodin's office had heard the news from Switzerland, Savchenko said.

"I saw [Borodin] today and he mentioned nothing," he said.

Asked if he was worried at all about his own Swiss bank account, Savchenko replied playfully: "I don't think I need to. I had nothing to do with Mabetex. And I sleep well, too."

***Staff reporter Yulia Solovyova also contributed to this report.***