By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
MOSCOW, Oct. 3 -- Switzerland has agreed to extradite Russia's former atomic energy minister to the United States, where he faces charges that he embezzled at least $9 million in U.S. funds intended to help safeguard Russian nuclear facilities, the Swiss Justice Ministry said Monday.
Yevgeny Adamov, 66, and an American business partner, Mark Kaushansky, are charged with conspiracy to transfer stolen money and securities, conspiracy to defraud the United States, money laundering and tax evasion, according to a federal indictment handed up in Pittsburgh.
Adamov was arrested in Switzerland in May on a U.S. warrant. He denies all the charges and has 30 days to appeal Monday's decision to Switzerland's Federal Supreme Court. The alleged fraud took place before he became a minister in 1998 in the government of then-President Boris Yeltsin.
The case has rankled Russian officials who contend Adamov should be tried in Moscow. It has also raised fears, fanned by Adamov in interviews from prison, that U.S. officials will extract sensitive information from him once he is in American custody.
"If I spend at least a night in a U.S. jail, there will be problems with state secrets," Adamov said in a telephone interview this month with Echo Moskvy radio.
Viktor Ilyukhin, the deputy head of a parliamentary committee on security issues, told Russia's Interfax news agency Monday that the Swiss decision was "a serious blow to our country's prestige."
"The U.S. needs Adamov as a source of information," Ilyukhin said. "Parliament believes that the U.S. will be interested in having an ex-Russian minister at its disposal as a source of secret information of great interest for U.S. intelligence services."
Adamov, who served as a minister for three years, has noted that he was involved in Russia's program to help Iran build a nuclear reactor.
Shortly after Adamov's arrest in Switzerland, the Russian general prosecutor charged him with fraud and abuse of office and sent a separate extradition request to Swiss authorities. Adamov agreed to be extradited to Russia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement saying that because the Russian accusations against Adamov involve his former role as a government minister, he should first face charges at home.
Explaining its decision, the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement Monday that if Adamov were returned to Russia, he could not subsequently be extradited to the United States because he is a Russian citizen. But if he is extradited to the United States first, he could be sent to Russia later for prosecution.
The charges stem from the early 1990s, when Adamov, a nuclear physicist, was head of a nuclear research institute that received American funding.
Adamov has said that he put U.S. money into private accounts because it was necessary to shield the funds from hyperinflation. But U.S. officials suspect that the money, some of which was allegedly parked in bank accounts in Pennsylvania, was used to finance business projects in the United States, Ukraine and Russia.