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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paper: Russian Mob Puts 'Moles' in U.S.

U.S. authorities fear Russian mobsters may have put "moles" inside major Western banks and securities firms to help them launder money, the Wall Street Journal reported in Thursday's online edition.

These authorities told the Journal that information from informants and other confidential sources suggests Russian organized crime rings "are making an active effort to penetrate the U.S. financial system."

"They'll put people in sensitive positions in the bank, so they can utilize them at some later point," the Journal reported, quoting a law-enforcement official with a long history of investigating Russian groups in the U.S.

But there is little public evidence of such activity, these authorities told the Journal.

The report of possible plants comes as U.S. and international law-enforcement officials are investigating the handling of billions of dollars allegedly tied to Russian mobsters in what could be one of the largest money-laundering schemes in U.S. history.

The initial investigation centered on the Bank of New York Co. Inc., but has widened in recent days to include the possible diversion by Russians of IMF loans.

The Bank of New York has denied any wrongdoing and said that it is cooperating with the authorities.

The International Monetary Fund has said it has no evidence that its cash was diverted.

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin on Thursday called on President Boris Yeltsin to order a parallel Russian investigation into the Bank of New York money-laundering scandal.

"This scandal cannot be hushed up," said Stepashin, who recently joined the anti-Kremlin liberal party Yabloko. Stepashin, in remarks cited by Interfax, suggested a team of Russian police and prosecutors go to New York to organize U.S.-Russian cooperation on the case.

Meanwhile, in a separate corruption case, a Swiss firm searched in connection with a Russian investigation of alleged high-level corruption has appealed Switzerland's provision of legal aid to Russia, the Swiss federal prosecutor's office said Thursday.

Forus Services SA, one of two Lausanne-based companies searched in July following a May 5 Russian request for assistance, has lodged at least 12 separate appeals, said Dominique Reymond, spokesman for the prosecutor's office.

In their request, Russian authorities cited suspected misuse of office, fraud and money laundering. They haven't publicly named the officials implicated, but media reports have linked the investigation to business tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky.

Large quantities of documents were seized in the search. Forus, which said its bank accounts were frozen, insisted in a statement Thursday that "it has not committed any irregularities whatsoever."

Russian investigators suspect that Berezovsky set up Forus and Andava SA, the other company searched, to hide $250 million of Aeroflot's hard-currency earnings outside Russia. Forus has denied the accusations, as has Berezovsky.

The firm said it arranged some $180 million of short-term credit facilities for the airline in 1997 and '98, and insisted it never possessed or had access to Aeroflot funds.

"Mr. Berezovsky was indeed one of the co-founders of Forus," but resigned from the board and gave up shareholder status in 1996, it said. "He was never involved in the management and business of Forus."

In addition to the Aeroflot-related investigations into Andava and Forus, the Swiss authorities have been working with Russian investigators to determine whether top Kremlin officials were involved in money laundering, and whether the Swiss construction firm Mabetex paid bribes to Yeltsin and his inner circle in return for lucrativecontracts.

An Italian newspaper has reported that Mabetex gave Yeltsin and his two daughters more than $1 million and arranged and paid for credit cards for the Yeltsins. The Kremlin has denied that Yeltsin has any foreign bank accounts.

But on Thursday, Yury Bagrayev, a top official with the Military Prosecutor's Office, told Interfax that former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov had provided evidence in March 1999 that members of the Yeltsin family have such credit cards.