Yeltsin gives boot to chief prosecutor, executive secretary

Top officials ran afoul of Russian president who never forgets, forgives

April 03, 1999|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Boris N. Yeltsin, who has been looking ever healthier and stronger the past few days, turned positively frisky yesterday. He suspended the nation's prosecutor general, who had dared to outmaneuver him two weeks ago, thus offering a reminder to anyone who needed it that this president always gets even and can never be counted out.

He also found time to seal, with a flourish, the dismissal of his old friend Boris A. Berezovsky.

Berezovsky was fired yesterday as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, unable to fly to Moscow and defend himself because his private plane was denied permission to enter Russian airspace.

Apparently not even the extraordinary anger at the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia that has united Russia's always fractious politicians could distract them from one of their favorite preoccupations -- tearing each other apart.

Yesterday, Yeltsin suspended Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov from his duties and asked the upper house of parliament to dismiss him.

The president said that a criminal investigation, on unspecified charges, had been opened against Skuratov and that he was morally unfit to continue in office.

"Details that have come to light make it impossible for me to stay calm toward the man now heading the office of the prosecutor general," Yeltsin said in a dark message to the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.

Resigned and unresigned

Two months ago, Skuratov resigned, saying he was in poor health, and promptly disappeared.

Yeltsin accepted the resignation -- amid reports that he had requested it. Six weeks later, Skuratov reappeared at work as if there had never been any talk of illness or resignation.

If Skuratov had forgotten, Yeltsin had not.

He asked the Federation Council to accept the resignation. Before the council could act, a videotape appeared on television showing Skuratov naked in bed with two young women.

In a rebuke to Yeltsin, the Federation Council rejected the resignation.

Some members said they were angry because Skuratov had been blackmailed into resigning under threat of the tape. Skuratov looked as if he was weathering the scandal, even though the tape was shown on late-night television and earned brisk sales at a market specializing in pirated videos.

Some commentators declared that the president weak and hopelessly wounded. They forgot that he always gets his man.

Back on the job, Skuratov said he was opening an investigation into charges that a Swiss building company had paid huge bribes to win contracts involving the renovation of the Kremlin and the Russian White House (government headquarters), which had to be rebuilt after Yeltsin shelled it in October 1993.

Thursday, Skuratov said he had a list of government officials who were holding suspicious foreign bank accounts.

Yesterday, at 8 a.m., Yeltsin signed a decree suspending Skuratov, pending final action by the Federation Council.

"This whole case against me has been manufactured," Skuratov said.

"This is clear as daylight."

Last night, a Moscow television station ran a feature on what was purportedly a KGB school set up to train women to entrap men.

"We're always successful," a young man identified as the director informed the audience.

Pressure behind scenes?

Yeltsin's firing of Berezovsky is, if possible, even murkier than the events surrounding Skuratov.

Berezovsky, one of Russia's financial oligarchs, is an old friend; he is close to Yeltsin's family and financed Yeltsin's 1996 presidential campaign.

But he has publicly clashed with Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, and some analysts of Kremlin smoke signals suggest that Primakov forced Yeltsin to acquiesce by offering some kind of deal he couldn't resist.

Just what kind of deal is unclear.

Before Yeltsin announced that he wanted to fire Berezovsky last month, prosecutors had been investigating allegations that a company controlled by Berezovsky had bugged Yeltsin's family.

Berezovsky allies were fired from Aeroflot, the airline run by a Yeltsin son-in-law.

Yesterday, after his plane was denied entry into Russian airspace, Berezovsky landed in Kiev.

"I would better ask for political asylum in Ukraine," he said, adding that he feared he would be arrested in Moscow.

"What's going on is beyond reason," he said.

Pub Date: 4/03/99

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