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Three charged in Kremlin kickback case

The Kremlin, refurbished by Swiss firms after they allegedly used bribes to win the contract Keystone

The justice authorities in Geneva have levelled formal charges against three people, as they widen their investigation of construction firms believed to have bribed top Russian officials in order to win contracts.

Geneva judge Daniel Devaud said two former UBS asset managers and a Geneva lawyer, whom he did not name, had been charged with money laundering.

The investigation was opened in 1999, and initially focused on Mabetex, a construction company based in canton Ticino. Mabetex director, Beghjet Pacolli, is expected to be charged on Tuesday, but has denied any wrongdoing.

Those in charge of the case later turned their attentions to another Ticino firm, Mercata. Its director, Viktor Stolpovsky, failed to attend a meeting with judge Devaud on Monday. His lawyers said they had requested a delay.

Both companies are accused of having made secret payments into the Swiss bank accounts of leading Russian officials to gain lucrative refurbishment contracts in 1995 and 1996. Those alleged to have received bribes include Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin, for whom an arrest warrant was issued in Geneva in January, and two daughters of the then president, Boris Yeltsin.

Mabetex is alleged to have given bribes totalling $4 million, and Mercata $60 million, but lawyers defending the firms claim that even if bribes were paid, no crime was committed. They argue that the bribery of foreign officials was not a crime under Swiss law at the time.

However, judge Devaud said that Swiss law allows the firms to be charged because their activities contributed to the laundering of money in Switzerland by Russian officials.

In two further cases, the Swiss authorities are investigating allegations of money laundering involving Russian officials said to have diverted aid from the International Monetary Fund to the Bank of New York, and that up to $600 million of revenues were diverted from the Russian airline Aeroflot into Swiss accounts.

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