The two main players in a Kremlin kickbacks and money laundering scandal have come face-to-face for the first time before the Geneva judge investigating the case.
The former senior Russian official, Pavel Borodin, and Behgjet Pacolli, the boss of the Swiss construction firm, Mabetex, appeared before investigating magistrate Daniel Devaud. Before the hearing the two men greeted each other and held a short conversation. The atmosphere was described as relaxed.
Speaking after the hearing, Geneva's chief prosecutor, Bernard Bertossa, said he believed there was enough evidence to bring Borodin to trial, although further hearings before Devaud would be required.
The next rounds of questioning will be on September 18 and 24. Borodin's lawyers confirmed that he would appear.
As on previous appearances before Devaud, Borodin exercised his right to remain silent. Pacolli, meanwhile, was willing to answer the magistrate's questions.
"As far as I'm concerned, there was nothing new in the judge's dossier," said Robert Assaël, one of Borodin's defence team.
Asked about Bertossa's belief that a trial could be held, Assaël said "that is his opinion", but if a trial was held "we would plead for acquittal".
Lack of evidence
The former Kremlin aide, who emerged from the courthouse in ebullient mood, believes that since Russian magistrates closed their investigation into the Mabetex affair because of a lack of evidence, he has no need to answer the questions of the Geneva magistrates.
Borodin, who now holds the largely ceremonial post of Secretary of the Russian-Belorussian Union, is accused of laundering $30 million, allegedly paid to him by Mabetex and another Swiss firm, Mercata, in return for lucrative contracts to renovate the Kremlin and the Russian presidential plane.
Pacolli is charged with being party to money laundering. According to the judge's file, Mabetex paid $3.5 million to Pavel Borodin and his sons-in-law between 1994 and 1995, using two Swiss bank accounts, one at a branch of UBS in Geneva and another at the Gotthard Bank in Lugano.
A lawyer and two bankers are also charged in connection with the affair.
This is the fourth time Borodin has faced questioning since he was released in April on SFr 5 million bail, paid by the Russian authorities. A former Kremlin property manager under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, Borodin was arrested in New York on a Swiss warrant last January as he arrived to attend the inauguration of President George W. Bush.
by Roy Probert