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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Critical of U.S. Verdict

The Foreign Ministry said Thursday that there were "great doubts" about a U.S. federal jury's conviction of a former Russian UN official on money laundering charges.

In a statement released one day after the jury at U.S. District Court in Manhattan convicted Vladimir Kuznetsov, ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said there were "many questions" hanging over the case.

Kamynin criticized what he said was a hasty decision by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to strip Kuznetsov of his diplomatic immunity and said Kuznetsov's arrest during the initial investigation, and the high bail set by the court, were "cause for surprise."

He also alleged that Kuznetsov and other witnesses had been pressured by prosecutors, "which were gross violations of procedural rules."

"Under these conditions, the verdict of the jury on the guilt of V.V. Kuznetsov gives rise to great doubts," he said.

Kuznetsov, 49, was charged in 2005 after an internal UN investigation of Alexander Yakovlev, a Russian who worked in the UN procurement office. Yakovlev pleaded guilty in federal court in 2005 to soliciting a bribe, wire fraud and money laundering.

Both men face up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for June 25.

As part of a cooperation deal, Yakovlev had admitted to accepting nearly $1 million in bribes from UN contractors. He testified against Kuznetsov.

Prosecutors said Kuznetsov established an offshore company in 2000 to hide criminal proceeds from Yakovlev, who received secret payments from foreign companies seeking contracts to provide goods and services to the United Nations.

Prosecutors also said the procurement officer had provided the companies with confidential and other information from the United Nations about the contracts.

In his closing statement on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Miller said Kuznetsov had tried to blame Yakovlev, "a lifetime paper pusher," when he spoke to the FBI.

Miller told the jury Kuznetsov wanted them to believe that Yakovlev was "such a great stock picker that he can accumulate enough money on an offshore account to both retire early and to float a friend a $300,000 no-interest loan."

Kuznetsov has denied the charges. His defense lawyer, Steven Kobre, told jurors during closing arguments that the government's evidence "makes no sense."

Kuznetsov was appointed to the UN General Assembly's powerful Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budget Questions in 1999. The budget oversight committee then elected him chairman.

A budget expert and career diplomat, he worked at both the Soviet and Russian UN Missions from the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s, and then on Russian delegations to various UN and international bodies including the Council of Europe, mainly dealing with budget issues.

In 2005, the Independent Inquiry Committee headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker said it had found "persuasive evidence" that Yakovlev took kickbacks from companies that had won some $79 million in UN contracts.

It said it had found that $1.3 million had been wired to a bank account on the Caribbean island of Antigua in the name of Moxyco Ltd.