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Swiss Authorities Join Probe of Yeltsin Aide

July 16, 1999|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Swiss prosecutors have joined Russian counterparts in investigating one of President Boris N. Yeltsin's most powerful aides: the low-key but influential boss of Kremlin perks and privileges, Pavel P. Borodin.

Swiss prosecutors Wednesday confirmed that they had launched a criminal investigation into alleged money laundering and corruption by 24 Russians, including Borodin, his wife and numerous top Kremlin officials.

Borodin, who is head of the presidential board of administration, on Thursday denounced the inquiry as political and denied he had money in Swiss banks.

"I want to say once again that this dirty campaign against me has evident political overtones," he said.

Russian prosecutors investigating Borodin seized papers from his office in March reportedly documenting the transfer of $100 million to accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Borodin is suspected of taking bribes in return for awarding lucrative construction contracts to Mabetex, a Swiss-based firm. He repeatedly has denied the allegation, as has Mabetex chief Behgjet Pacolli.

In April, Yeltsin suspended Prosecutor General Yuri I. Skuratov, who launched the Russian investigation into Borodin's affairs.

The taint surrounding Borodin could increase pressure on Yeltsin to fire his trusted friend, who also was a favorite tennis partner until several years ago when doctors ordered the ailing president to stay off the court.

In Russia, where political power is measured by the phones arrayed on one's desk, Borodin has long had a direct line to Yeltsin. Though rumors of alleged corruption go back a decade to Borodin's days as mayor of Yakutsk in east-central Siberia, he somehow survived Yeltsin's penchant for sacking officials close to him.

Borodin derives his power from his control over the perks awarded to the political elite. He runs a vast, largely invisible conglomerate that provides accommodations, transportation, recreation and catering services for the powerful.

Though Borodin often describes himself as "just a manager," his empire consists of a fleet of aircraft and limousines, hotels, health farms, recreation centers, office and apartment buildings, dachas and various companies, all staffed by tens of thousands of people and all inherited from the Soviet-era Communist Party.

He controls a budget running into hundreds of millions of dollars and oversaw a deluxe renovation of the Kremlin Palace at the cost of $335 million.

The prosecutor general in Geneva, Bernard Bertossa, was on vacation Thursday, and the investigating magistrate in his office, Daniel Devaud, was not available to comment. Devaud was quoted in Moscow's English-language daily, the Moscow Times, as saying neither Yeltsin nor his influential daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, were among the 24 Russian officials he is investigating.

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