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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Swiss to File Charges Over Kremlin Bribes

Swiss prosecutors have notified the head of Swiss construction firm Mabetex that he will soon be charged with money laundering $4 million in kickbacks to gain lucrative Kremlin restoration contracts and other crimes, news agencies reported.

A lawyer representing Mabetex head Behgjet Pacolli said Wednesday that Geneva investigator Daniel Devaud had written that he intends to charge Pacolli with money laundering and membership in a criminal organization, according to news agency reports. Lawyers for Viktor Stolpovskikh of Mercata Trading - the former head of Mabetex's Moscow office - said separately that they had received a similar letter, the agencies said.

Mercata and Mabetex - both based in the Swiss city of Lugano - have been at the center of a Swiss probe into allegations of corruption reaching to the highest level.

Devaud announced last year that 24 Russian officials - now known to include former Kremlin property chief Pavel Borodin, his wife, his deputy and former Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets - were also under investigation for money laundering.

In February, Swiss authorities said they had issued a warrant for Borodin, who is now executive secretary of the Russia-Belarus union.

Borodin again denied the allegations Wednesday, Interfax reported.

Local prosecutors - who have also been investigating the Mabetex case - were surprised at news of the charges.

Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov visited Devaud in Geneva recently and returned to Russia with new documents to serve as evidence in his own investigation.

In remarks reported by Interfax, Kolmogorov said that the news of potential charges came as a surprise to him, despite his recent contact with Devaud.

Devaud could not be reached for comment.

Pacolli laughed at the news in a telephone interview, but said he was not surprised by the summons.

He quoted media reports saying Devaud was required to make further moves on the investigation by Wednesday, otherwise the probe would lapse.

Pacolli has been summoned from Lugano to Geneva for a hearing June 27 to show records of Mabetex payments to Passport International, a Moscow-based company that organized visas and transfers for Mabetex employees working on contracts in Russia and Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, Pacolli said.

Mabetex bought a 25 percent stake in Passport International in 1994, a year before it started working on the Kremlin projects, Pacolli said.

"Mr. Devaud supposes we paid Borodin through Passport International," Pacolli said. "We started in Moscow on the Kremlin in 1995. Mr. Devaud has nothing in hand. He has the bills we paid, some $3.8 million from 1993 to 1994, when we were in Kazakhstan, in Russia, in the Ural [region], in Siberia, sometimes with more than 10,000 [workers]."

But Pacolli, who said he had heard of the letter from his representative in Geneva, said the letter contained no threat of formal charges to his knowledge.

Lucio Amoruso, lawyer for Stolpovskikh of Mercata, confirmed his client had also been summoned to appear before the judge and be charged, but he declined to give details.

"We are very surprised by this move," Amoruso said. "My client has asked me not to comment on this case and I will not do so," he said from his Geneva offices, Reuters reported.

Mercata was also among the 100 or so companies contracted to renovate the Kremlin, an endeavor that cost the government more than $750 million.

Stolpovskikh was the front man for tycoon Roman Abramovich's purchase of a Bavarian mansion for Tatyana Dyachenko, former President Boris Yeltsin's favorite daughter, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported last year.

Mabetex first came to attention when it was reported that the Kremlin had used the firm to buy two luxury yachts for just under $500,000.