The Russian prosecutor looking into bribery of Kremlin officials by a Swiss construction firm has asked questions about whether money was given to President Boris Yeltsin's wife and two daughters, the head of the construction firm said in an interview published today.
Behgjet Pacolli, president of Mabetex, which is the focus of investigations here and in Switzerland, told the Russian newspaper Sevodnya that Russian investigators had asked him about "three women," meaning Yeltsin's wife and daughters.
Pacolli recalled that during an April 20 interrogation in Moscow, the prosecutor said to him, "Tell me everything about the three women, and the issue of payments from Russia will be settled."
Pacolli said the prosecutor later said, "This is a joke," but that it was not.
The prosecutor, Georgi Chuglazov, told the Interfax news agency that he asked Pacolli "about men as well as women." He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, Russia's suspended chief prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, told the Associated Press that Yeltsin and his family figure in Swiss and Russian bribery investigations.
The two statements were the latest suggestion that prosecutors were looking at the involvement of Yeltsin's family in the Mabetex scandal. At issue is whether Mabetex paid bribes to senior Russian officials for the Kremlin construction contracts. There have been reports of secret Swiss bank accounts held by top Kremlin aides, and, more recently, of gifts of credit-card accounts to high-ranking Russian officials and Yeltsin's family. The company has denied wrongdoing. The Kremlin has denied the reports as well.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, an increasingly outspoken Yeltsin critic as well as a presidential aspirant, demanded that Yeltsin and his family "personally" tell the truth about their overseas bank accounts and credit cards. "This concerns the president, his family and his circle," Luzhkov said in a speech here.
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported today that investigators are pursuing the whereabouts of 24 bank accounts held by Russian officials and their families.
Chuglazov did not confirm that he had directly asked about Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, a Kremlin aide. "I had many questions," Chuglazov said. "I did not have time for that question."
The acting prosecutor general, Vladimir Ustinov, said the case was only half finished and "should not be hurried."
Chuglazov also reiterated today that he has been sidelined as lead investigator in the case. He was appointed an adviser to the prosecutor general, a promotion that removes him from direct responsibility for the case. "I was on the front line. Now I am at the rear," he told the Reuters news service.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin discussed the allegations of possible Russian money laundering through the Bank of New York with Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB secret police. Patrushev said he had advised Yeltsin that the case "is purely political and is connected with the approaching U.S. elections."
Patrushev said reports that $10 billion or more may have been transferred through the New York bank are "simply absurd." But he said Russian law enforcement officials are considering a visit to New York to cooperate with the FBI.
First Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin said the investigations into the money laundering scandals could delay the next installment of a loan from the International Monetary Fund by several weeks while the fund investigates reports that previous credits were improperly diverted.
Russian politicians continued to express differing views about how to respond to the burgeoning corruption allegations. Alexander Shokhin, a member of parliament, said the government "blundered in failing to react immediately to the very serious accusations."
But Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking to reporters while visiting Armenia, said Russia did not intend to respond to the media reports. "We have no reason to explain ourselves," he said. "As for Russia's good name, it has one."