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Switzerland opens probe against Russian tycoon

Britain granted Berezovsky political asylum in September Keystone Archive

Switzerland has launched a formal investigation into alleged money laundering and membership of a criminal organisation by the Russian billionaire, Boris Berezovsky.

This content was published on November 17, 2003 - 16:24

The accusations against Berezovsky include siphoning funds belonging to the Russian airline, Aeroflot, through two firms in Switzerland.

The Swiss authorities insisted the probe was not related to last month's arrest by the Russians of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of the Yukos oil company, on tax evasion and fraud charges.

“We are concerned with criminal justice not politics,” Federal Prosecutor Valentin Roschacher told the “SonntagsZeitung” newspaper.

“We just want to know which of Berezovsky’s activities in Switzerland were legal and which ones might have been illegal.”

Responding to the Swiss decision to open an investigation, Berezovsky said he did not believe Roschacher had acted independently.

"I don't believe that it was an independent decision of the prosecutor," he said, "and I have direct evidence that the prosecutor got false information from Russia... and used this information to cooperate with Russia."

The Russian tycoon denied all the accusations levelled against him. Berezovsky, who is Jewish, also accused the Swiss authroites of an "anti-Semitic act".

Aeroflot affair

In April this year Swiss investigators carried out raids across the country in connection with the so-called Aeroflot affair.

The raids were linked to a long-running Russian investigation against Berezovsky for allegedly siphoning off $600 million (SFr790 million) from foreign transactions via Aeroflot’s Lausanne-based company, Andava, and the financial group, Forus.

The Swiss handed over vast amounts of documents relating to the Aeroflot affair to Moscow, but the Russian authorities abruptly closed their investigation in late 1999.

Berezovsky was arrested on fraud charges in Britain in March this year but was later granted political asylum on the grounds that he might be killed if he returned to Russia.

Russian interest

Roschacher said he hoped that the fact that Berezovsky was now a refugee would not hinder the Swiss investigation, saying it was in Russia’s own interest to help with the Swiss inquiry.

“We opened the investigation against Berezovsky in all calmness and away from pressure, because we have some grounds for suspicion of money laundering,” said the federal prosecutor.

An appeal by Berezovsky to the Swiss Federal Court in July 2000 to stop cooperation between Switzerland and Russia was rejected, as was his attempt to lift an order blocking the freezing of his accounts in Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

Boris

Boris Berezovsky is a wealthy Russian businessman who is a staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin.

He was granted refugee status in Britain after fleeing Moscow in the 1990s.

Moscow issued an arrest warrant for Berezovsky in April 1999, but the authorities closed their investigation at the end of the year.

In March this year British police arrested Berezovsky in connection with Russian charges that he defrauded a regional government of $13 million by stealing cars from Russia’s largest carmaker, AvtoVaz.

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