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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Del Ponte Gives Up Swiss Post For UN




One of the world's most outspoken crusaders against high-level corruption in Russia, Swiss Attorney General Carla del Ponte, is quitting to accept a promotion to work with the UN International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.


The 15 members of the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to offer del Ponte the new post as chief prosecutor for cases concerning the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.


Her predecessor, Louise Arbour, quit to take a seat on the Canadian Supreme Court. Arbour's last major act in office was bringing a war crimes indictment against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.


Del Ponte estimated that The Hague's existing investigations alone would take five to six years to complete.


That will probably keep her far too busy to earn new enemies in Russia - where she hounded the Kremlin with corruption allegations. It will also cool tempers in Switzerland, where del Ponte's pursuit of various money-laundering cases irked a powerful banking lobby that prides itself on providing clients of all walks with financial privacy.


Speaking at a news conference at UN offices in Geneva on Thursday evening, del Ponte promised that her successor as Switzerland's top prosecutor would continue the corruption investigations that have targeted Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin itself. Her longtime deputy, Felix Benziger, will take over temporarily.


"The people who will succeed me can perfectly well continue my task," del Ponte said, in remarks reported by The Associated Press.


But del Ponte's Russian counterpart, Yury Skuratov, suggested Thursday that her departure could mean the end of the Swiss investigations.


"One question does arise: Whether her successor can effectively lead the [Swiss] prosecutor general's office and fulfill the agreements [on crime-fighting cooperation] that we signed," Skuratov said in an interview Thursday with NTV television.


"That work is only beginning," he added.


When the Kremlin de-activated Skuratov earlier this year - citing a nationally televised videotape showing Skuratov cavorting with two prostitutes - del Ponte soldiered on. She continued gathering evidence for Skuratov's investigations - personally conducting high-profile searches in one case and personally bringing evidence to Moscow.


In April, she arrived for talks with Skuratov carrying a briefcase full of what Skuratov claimed was evidence that top Kremlin officials had suspect Swiss bank accounts. Russian newspaper headlines declared, "She Can't Be Bought."


Del Ponte aided Skuratov's inquiries into the Kremlin's relations with Mabetex, a Lugano, Switzerland-based fit-out company. Mabetex won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts across the former Soviet Union.


The Kremlin's household affairs directorate, led by Pavel Borodin, hired Mabetex to decorate the interior of the main ceremonial building of the Kremlin in return for a hefty price tag - sparking allegations of graft and bribery. Borodin is now the target of a Swiss criminal investigation on suspicion he laundered bribe money through a Geneva bank.


Del Ponte also dug into the affairs of two Swiss-based firms linked to Boris Berezovsky, an occasional federal official who claims to meet regularly with President Boris Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. One of those firms, Lausanne-based Andava, is suspected as having served as a money-laundering point for foreign revenues siphoned off from state-owned Aeroflot, a company run by Yeltsin's son-in-law, Valery Okulov.


Berezovsky has offered contradictory accounts of his connections to Aeroflot. Skuratov ordered his arrest in the spring on suspicion of illegal entrepreneurship and money laundering.


But then-Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin announced, with no real explanation why, that he would not carry out that order. Moscow's political winds shifted with the sacking of then-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and the arrest order was dropped.


The shakeup of the Prosecutor General's Office that began with Skuratov's d?marche against Berezovsky appeared complete only two weeks ago, when Skuratov's replacement and ally, Yury Chaika, was unseated in favor of Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov.


It may now be up to Ustinov, whom Russian media link to Berezovsky, to decide whether to keep the Swiss involved in Russian investigations.


Borodin's case, however, is already out of Russian hands: Believing Swiss money-laundering laws were violated on Swiss soil, Geneva city prosecutor Bernard Bertossa in July launched a formal investigation of Borodin, his wife and 22 others. Some of them are purportedly high up in the Russian presidential administration.


Switzerland's federal attorney general's office - which acted against Mabetex and Berezovsky on Skuratov's request - would likely continue cooperating with Russia when del Ponte is replaced, Swiss journalists said Wednesday, citing an April 1998 Russian-Swiss agreement on mutual judicial assistance.


The Financial Times newspaper suggested that if Bertossa were to be eventually appointed as del Ponte's replacement, that would be a strong sign the money-laundering investigations would go on.


Del Ponte's style has been labeled "combative." As attorney general, she investigated possible financial misdeeds by international terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden and Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas, who resigned when corruption charges began closing in on him.


Her critics in Switzerland and Russia have accused her of interfering in internal Russian affairs by so eagerly assisting high-profile Russian criminal investigations. Del Ponte has estimated that $40 billion in black Russian money has been laundered through Swiss banks since the fall of the Soviet Union.


Media reports say revelations yielded by her money-laundering investigations have blackened the image of the Swiss banking sector. She has also annoyed bankers by trying to undermine banking secrecy with her efforts to aid foreign tax-evasion investigations.


Like Skuratov, she also has a reputation for spectacularly failing to convict anyone - most spectacularly, she failed in an ambitious prosecution of Sergei Mikhailov, who she described as the leader of Moscow's Solntsevo organized crime group. Mikhailov, popularly known as Mikhas, went free last December.


"[Mikhas] was acquitted, like several other well-known people whom del Ponte tried to put behind bars. For that, she has the reputation in Switzerland as tough but unlucky and too impulsive, with a tendency to dramatize the situation without enough evidence," NTV television reported Wednesday.