Semyon Mogilevich, described by investigators as a key figure in the probe of possible Russian money-laundering and capital flows through the Bank of New York, said in an interview published today that reports about the case have been exaggerated.
"Russia does not have this kind of money; it's as simple as that," he said of reports that more than $10 billion was transferred from Russia through the New York bank over a year and a half, and that $4.2 billion might have gone through one account in a six-month period.
"When I came home after the first publication about $4.2 billion, there was a furious scandal at home," he said. "My wife was screaming that she wanted to change the carpet, and I used to tell her we are short of money."
Mogilevich, 53, has been called the "Brainy Don" because he holds an economics degree and because published reports have identified him as one of the world's most powerful underworld figures. He was interviewed by the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, a racy broadsheet. The newspaper did not say when or where the interview was conducted.
When asked whether he was head of an international criminal organization, Mogilevich replied: "I am a businessman. I cannot say I am a big one, since the tax police will arrive tomorrow; or a small one, because neighbors will stop saying hello. Thus, I am a middle-size businessman."
Mogilevich devoted much of the interview to expressing doubt about the huge amounts of money reported to have passed through the bank. He said, "I am not worth $10 billion." Some reports have said that he was responsible for about $200 million of the money allegedly funneled through the bank.
"Do all these authors mean that everybody pooled his or her money to give it to Mogilevich for laundering?" he asked. When the interviewer asked his view of the controversy, Mogilevich replied, "The United States does not give a damn about Russia." He said law enforcement authorities were chasing Russian organized crime figures around the world, and "it's my turn now."
Also today, a top Kremlin official claimed that no evidence has been found linking him or President Boris Yeltsin and his family to Swiss bank accounts. Pavel Borodin, who heads the property division of the presidential administration, was referring to an ongoing investigation of the Swiss construction firm Mabetex, which renovated Kremlin buildings. Investigators are trying to determine if bribes were paid to top Russian government officials in connection with the renovation, according to Russian and European news reports. Some have said that credit cards or overseas accounts were issued to Yeltsin and his family.
"All these are inventions and lies," said Borodin. "I asked the investigator to show me at least one photocopy of a credit card or money receipt, to demonstrate a single proof. But he had nothing."
He was referring to Georgi Chuglazov, a prosecutor who was abruptly removed from the case recently; Chuglazov said this week that 90 percent of the accounts in the press are true.