Federal authorities arrested a former low-ranking employee of the Bank of New York today, saying she lied to investigators about her role in the suspicious transfer of billions of dollars from Russia to accounts at the bank.
Investigators believe that Svetlana Kudryavtsev, a New York-based employee in the bank's Eastern European division, was paid more than $30,000 by a group of Russian-born associates over the last four years to help move some $7.5 billion through a series of related accounts, according to court documents.
Her arrest in Brooklyn early this morning is a sign the year-old money-laundering probe continues to expand, despite the challenges facing investigators in pinpointing the sources of the money abroad and determining whether it was obtained in a way that violates U.S. laws.
Senior officials from the FBI and the office of the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York last month attended a series of closed-door meetings in Moscow with Russian banking, tax and law enforcement officials to discuss plans to step up the investigation in Russia.
As a result of those meetings, several FBI agents will travel to Moscow in the coming weeks to work on the case with their Russian counterparts, according to FBI spokesman Joseph Valiquette.
"They came back very much encouraged as to the willingness of the Russian authorities to conduct their end of the investigation. . . . From what we have observed so far, they're making good on their promises," Valiquette said. "The investigation is far from over, but it's still full steam ahead."
Kudryavtsev, an international banking associate who was fired in August, is the first person to be taken into custody in the year-old case. Authorities hope the arrest will prompt her to share information on three other people who were indicted in September for allegedly conducting an unlicensed banking operation and illegally transmitted money.
Those indicted include Lucy Edwards, a former bank vice president in the Eastern European division who was fired in August, and her husband, Peter Berlin, who operated the companies that opened Bank of New York accounts and moved money from Russia. One of those companies is Benex International Co.
Edwards, Berlin and their associate, Aleksey Volkov, are abroad and have not been taken into custody. Through their lawyers, they have denied any doing anything illegal.
The Bank of New York has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and bank officials are cooperating with the investigators.
Kudryavtsev, 49, is a U.S. citizen who came to the United States from Russia in 1989. She applied to work at the Bank of New York in October 1993, naming Lucy Edwards as a reference. She began working in the bank's Eastern European division in October 1994.
Kudryavtsev was arrested for allegedly making several false statements to federal investigators, a charge that is typically used as a way to create pressure on a suspect to provide information.
If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 or more in fines, according to federal prosecutors. During a hearing this afternoon, she released on a $30,000 personal bond after surrendering her passport, according to Marvin Smilon, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
While apparently not a central figure in the money-moving operation, Kudryavtsev had documents to process transfers for Benex and she served as a bank contact on behalf of Berlin and his associates, according to an affidavit filed by the FBI.
When Kudryavtsev was interviewed by FBI investigators on Aug. 24, she "denied having heard of Benex or of any other businesses associated with Peter Berlin," according to the affidavit. Kudryavtsev also said that she had never received any money or loans from Berlin or Edwards, whom she has known for 15 years.
But bank records show that her account at the Bank of New York received three wire transfers in June, July and August 1998 totaling $25,200 from Highborough Services, a company authorities say is controlled by Edwards and Berlin.
Berlin, Edwards and people associated with the couple gave Kudryavtsev other money, and she received at least $8,200 from Benex, according to the court documents. When investigators searched Kudryavtsev's work area at the bank, they also found some 30 wire transfer forms that were blank except for Berlin's authorizing signature.
An attorney for Kudryavtsev did not return phone calls.