WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 -- Billions of dollars laundered by Russian organized crime figures through two New York banks were intended to finance Russian President Boris Yeltsin's allies in the coming parliamentary and presidential elections, United Press International has been told by U.S. intelligence sources, Russian analysts and other experts. The Washington-based newspaper USA Today reported from London Thursday that Russian organized crime figures laundered at least $15 billion through the Bank of New York and the Republic National Bank at the direction of Yeltsin's government. The paper cited senior U.S., British and Russian law enforcement officials for its report. The paper also reported that at least $10 billion of the $15 billion came from the more than $20 billion the International Monetary Fund has loaned to Russia since 1992. Moscow-based Russian sources said the USA Today report appeared to be accurate. They said that Yeltsin and his supporters were widely believed to be attempting to hinder the investigations into the scandal. They also said that the huge sums may be intended to finance pro-Yeltsin candidates in elections for the State Duma, the main house of the Russian parliament, due to be held this December, and in the presidential elections to choose a successor to Yeltsin next June. Ariel Cohen of the conservative Heritage Foundation, a prominent U.S. expert on Russian politics, said these claims appeared credible. 'Judging by the large amount of funds involved and the desperate need for money that has been expressed privately by officials at the highest level of the Yeltsin administration, this was the political 'war chest' of the Yeltsin clan,' he said.
'It was the collection of funds that was being moved out of Russia for safekeeping until it needed to be used in the parliamentary and presidential elections.' 'In the West, this money laundering scandal is being treated as a pure law enforcement issue, but that is very misleading,' Cohen said. 'For Moscow, this is primarily a political issue.' Yeltsin cannot run for a third term as president under the 1993 Russian Constitution, which he himself designed. But he and his inner circle of supporters are believed to be desperate to keep his former prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov out of power. In recent weeks, Primakov has joined with Luzhkov and most of the regional governors of Russia in the merged Fatherland and All Russia movements. In the 1995 Duma elections and Yeltsin's successful 1996 election campaign, he enjoyed the financial support of the enormous Moscow-based Gazprom oil and gas corporation, the largest energy corporation in the world. Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin's prime minister from 1993 to 1998, was previously the chairman of Gazprom. And was reappointed to that position on Thursday. But now Gazprom, under its current chairman Rem Vyakhirev, is supporting the Primakov-Luzhkov alliance against the Yeltsin interests in the coming elections. That means, experts said, that Yeltsin and his supporters have been increasingly desperate to raise comparable sums to finance their campaigns from other sources. 'Vyakhirev has committed himself to support the Primakov-Luzhkov team for the 1999-2000 elections,' said Cohen. On Thursday, the Putin government pushed through a new board of directors to control Gazprom at an extraordinary shareholders meeting in Moscow. The move was seen as consolidating state control of the company. USA Today named five prominent Russian individuals who, it said, were being investigated by senior law enforcement bodies in both Russia and Britain in connection with the money-laundering through the two New York banks. Those named: --Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin's daughter and most influential political adviser; --Anatoly Chubais, former chief of staff and former finance minister, the mastermind of Russia's' crash privatization program, who has extremely strong personal links with top Clinton administration policy makers on Russia; --Oleg Soskovets, former deputy prime minister; --Alexander Livshits, former finance minister; --Vladimir Potanin, former deputy chairman of the Russian Federation and one of the seven wealthiest and most powerful oligarch billionaires in Russia. Janine Wedel of George Washington University, a leading U.S. expert on the siphoning of Western aid by Russian organized crime, said Chubais had been widely suspected in Russia for a long time of being involved in such activities. 'Chubais has been under suspicion for years. Nevertheless, he has remained the favorite son of individuals at the top levels of the United States government,' she said. The Moscow Times, in an editorial Aug. 25, said that the investigation into the money laundering appeared to have been hampered by leaks to the Western press. The original story revealing the scandal ran last week in the New York Times. 'The furious Brits (British investigators) blame the Americans; in off-the-record conversations, the FBI blames the Brits; and either way, a major U.S.-British investigation is being brought to a hasty and, possibly, unsatisfactory close,' The Moscow Times said. 'Heroes of law enforcement are being applauded, (and) lauded and in the process being taken out of the game.' Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank, agreed with this bleak assessment. He said that despite the dramatic allegations in the New York Times and USA Today reports, it was by no means certain, or even likely, that the suspects in the scandal ever would be successfully prosecuted. 'Unless the United States Congress decides to take an active role in probing these allegations, this investigation will not go very far,' he said. 'Russia is a country where allegations of corruption fly back and forth all the time. And up to now, all the investigations that have been made into them have been effectively blocked by President Yeltsin and his close associates.' In 1997, a study into Russian organized crime by the Global Organized Crime Project of Washington's Center for Strategic and Organized Studies concluded that -- even by then -- close to $200 billion had been illegally siphoned out of Russia as the proceeds of criminal activities, and that the immensely wealthy new structures of Russian organized crime were already subverting the highest officials and institutions of the state. The report coined the term 'criminal-syndicalist state' to describe the emerging political system in a Russia permeated by corruption and organized crime to the highest levels. ---NEWLN:Copyright 1999 by United Press InternationalNEWLN:All rights reserved