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Switzerland seeks Russian help in Mabetex affair

The Swiss authorities have reportedly asked Russia to hand over documents relating to a corruption inquiry involving a Ticino-based firm, Mabetex. The company is suspected of bribing Kremlin officials in exchange for lucrative building contracts.

Russia’s Itar-tass news agency reported that the Swiss authorities had formally asked Moscow to provide documents relating to the case. The Swiss authorities were unavailable to confirm the report because Tuesday was a national holiday.

Itar-tass said the Swiss request was made last Friday to Russian prosecutor, Nikolai Volkov, during his visit to Berne. Volkov was in Switzerland to collect documents relating to an Aeroflot corruption case, involving Swiss companies.

Swiss prosecutors want to know more about dealings between Kremlin officials and Mabetex boss, Beghjet Pacolli. Pacolli is suspected of bribing the former Kremlin finance chief, Pavel Borodin, in exchange for lucrative refurbishment contracts in 1995-96.

The Geneva magistrate handling the case, Daniel Devaud, has charged Pacolli with handing out bribes totalling $4 million (SFr6.5 million). He has also issued an international summons to Borodin. However, Russia says there are no grounds to charge Borodin, and that he is merely a witness in the case.

A similar case, involving another Ticino-based company, Mercata, is also being investigated. The company is alleged to have given bribes worth $60 million.

But lawyers defending the firms claim that, even if bribes were paid, no crime was committed because bribery of foreign officials was not a crime under Swiss law at the time.

Devaud disagrees. He says Swiss law does allow charges to be brought in these cases because the firms’ activities contributed to the laundering of money in Switzerland by Russian officials.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR