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Adamov case sparks international tug of war

Adamov’s fate will be decided in Switzerland Keystone Archive

The detention of Russia’s former atomic energy minister, Yevgeny Adamov, has put Switzerland at the centre of a dispute between Moscow and Washington.

The Swiss authorities must decide to which country Adamov should be extradited, in a case which experts say concerns access to information on Russia’s nuclear weapons programme.

Adamov was arrested in Bern at the beginning of the month at the request of the United States.

He stands accused of diverting $9 million (SFr10.9 million) of US funds intended to improve security at Russia’s nuclear facilities when he was atomic energy minister from 1998 to 2001.

However, some experts say that Washington is using charges of money laundering, tax evasion and conspiracy to derive valuable information about Russia’s atomic weapons programme.

“What’s at stake is not the money that Adamov purportedly stole or embezzled, but the information that he has about Russia’s nuclear programmes,” said Andre Liebich, central and east European expert at Geneva’s Graduate Institute for International Studies.

Arms decommissioning

“The US has been very keen to see these programmes wound down and the arms decommissioned and has been paying in part for this process,” Liebich told swissinfo.

“Adamov, of course, is at the very centre of this and the US is obviously expressing dissatisfaction with the way the Russians are proceeding in this matter.”

Liebich said the Adamov case represents Washington’s attempt to put pressure on Moscow to come clean and is another sign of deteriorating relations between the two nuclear powers.

And, he says, Switzerland has been unfortunately caught in the middle of this latest political tug of war.

On top of the US charges, a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Adamov last week, also for fraud, and formally applied for his extradition on Thursday.

Take decision

The US authorities have until the end of June to make their own formal extradition request. When they do so, Switzerland will have to decide between the two.

The Swiss government has extradition treaties with both states, and in situations like these, will take its decision “in consideration of all the circumstances”.

These include the seriousness and place where the offences were committed, the dates of the extradition requests, the nationality of the person involved and the possibility of subsequent extradition to another state.

Helen Keller, professor of international law at Zurich University, says the whole process could undergo considerable delays.

“The US has yet to hand over its formal extradition request,” the lawyer told swissinfo.

Keller said that once that is done, the Swiss will have to examine whether the requests deal with the same offences, so they can pass judgement on their “seriousness”.

Adamov appeal

“And Adamov has the right to make representations,” she added. “He could, for example, assert that the entire affair is a political process. This would be something the Swiss authorities would have to examine seriously. He can also appeal any decision.”

Keller said the fact that Russia handed in its request first and that the case involved a Russian citizen was in Moscow’s favour. But she added that the Swiss would also have to take into account the prospects of Adamov receiving a fair trial in Russia.

“There are concerns that the Russian courts are not independent, as we’ve seen with the Yukos [oil company] trial,” she said.

However, Russia is expected to exert pressure on the Swiss authorities to ensure Adamov is sent home.

“It’s perfectly likely that Moscow would take reprisals against Swiss interests and citizens in Russia,” said Liebich.

He said this could take the form of finding a Swiss company or official in violation of Russian law. “It’s difficult to do business in Russia without violating one law or another,” he said.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel

Russia’s former atomic energy minister, Yevgeny Adamov has been detained in Bern since May 2, at the request of the United States.

He is charged with embezzling $9 million, which had been destined for nuclear safety upgrades in Russia, and transferring the money to various US companies under his control.

Adamov also faces extradition to Russia, which handed a formal request to the Swiss authorities on May 17. He is wanted in Russia for fraud.

The US has until June 30 to issue its own formal extradition request. Switzerland will then have to decide between the two countries.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR