The Moscow Times

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

FSB Says It’s Building a Case of Its Own
Gregory Feifer

While waiting for Boris Berezovsky to show his long-promised film in London, prosecutors in Moscow busied themselves Tuesday with rolling out allegations about the exiled tycoon’s involvement with rebels in Chechnya.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said it had evidence that Berezovsky helped arm Chechen militants for the incursions into Dagestan in the summer of 1999 and ordered the kidnapping of Interior Ministry General Gennady Shpigun earlier that year, Interfax reported.

Berezovsky supplied about 30 million rubles through his long-time business partner Badri Patarkatsishvili to Chechen rebels Kazbek Makashev and Movladi Udugov for the purchase of anus ahead of the raids, the report said.

Prosecutors were stingy with the evidence. “For the safety of investigators, witnesses and the preservation of evidence, we cannot yet make public the documents in our possession about Berezovsky’s involvement in the events in Chechnya,” Pavel Barkovsky, deputy chief of the special investigative unit at the Prosecutor General’s Office, was quoted as saying.

Prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Natalya Veshnyakova said no fonnal charges have been filed concerning Berezovsky’s activities in Chechnya. “We’re just talking about the fact that investigations are being carried out,” she said, speaking by telephone.

Barkovsky said an international arrest warrant for Berezovsky would be issued if “enough evidence” was gathered.

In London, Berezovsky took the news in stride. “This is not the first time the FSB and the Prosecutor General’s Office have tried to create the impression of pursuing me through Interpol. The first such announcement was made a year ago, but to date they have issued only a Russian arrest warrant,” he said.

Prosecutors also are investigating whether Berezovsky was involved in Shpiguns abduction and murder, Barkovsky said in televised statements after a news conference for selected journalists where prosecutors showed what was said to be a videotape of an anonymous witness testifying about Berezovsky’s collusion.

Shpigun was kidnapped in Grozny on March 5, 1999, when armed masked men boarded his plane as it was about to leave for Moscow. His kidnappers -- reported to be any of a number of warlords, including Shamil Basayev and Khattab -- demanded a ransom of $15 million. Shpigun’s body was found in March 2000 in the south of Chechnya.

Prosecutors said witnesses had testified that Shpigun was aware of the involvement of Basayev, Udugov and Vakha Arsanov in the kidnapping business, Jnterfax reported. More important, the testimony cited by the prosecutors indicated Shpiguns kidnapping had been ordered by Berezovsky.

As a government official between the two Chechnya wars, Berezovsky helped free a number of hostages. Numerous reports have said he paid ransoms worth millions of dollars. Critics have said that Berezovsky, who served as deputy chief of the Security Council in charge of Chechnya’s economic revival, maintained close ties with rebels in order to further his own business interests.

Yury Korgunyuk of Indem and Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center said the prosecutors’ accusations were meant to discredit Berezovsky’s accusations against the FSB.

“It’s sheer public relations,” Korgunyuk said. “Everyone knows Berezovsky gave money to Chechen warlords. Everyone knows the money went into their pockets. But to say that Berezovsky helped orchestrate such things as the incursions into Dagestan is absurd.”

Critics said Kremlin insiders, including Berezovsky, engineered the Chechen war in 1999 as a way to hold on to power in the final months of ailing President Boris Yeltsin’s administration and boost the popularity of his heir apparent, Vladimir Putin.The raids on Dagestan and the apartment building explosions were used to justify the decision to send troops back to Chechnya.

Korgunyuk said it was highly unlikely Berezovsky would be extradited to Russia. “The Prosecutor General’s Office is working very crudely,” he said. “The accusations concerning Aeroflot looked to have a lot of truth in them, but when attention was switched to Chechnya, it showed that work was progressing very badly.”

Last fall, investigators issued an arrest warrant for Berezovsky in connection with alleged embezzlement of $40 million from Aeroflot.

The real aim of the allegations against Berezovsky was most likely to keep him out of Russia, the analyst said. “Accusations are pulled out of thin air to let Berezovsky know that a case against him can always be found.”