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Western Press Review: Russia Scandal Reaches Across The Sea

  • Don Hill

Prague, 27 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Many commentators in the Western press on both sides of the Atlantic concentrate on the current Russian financial scandal. The International Herald Tribune, in a headline, calls it a "Debacle in Russia, Scandal in America."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Russia debacle may haunt America for generations

The IHT carries a commentary by Washington Post writer David Ignatius saying that U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, is in the path of the scandal alleging illegal transit of huge funds from Russia through a New York bank. The writer describes Gore's problem as follows: "The vice president was a loud advocate of continued IMF lending to Russia, even as evidence mounted that some of it was being misused by the [Russian] business oligarchs and their political cronies." Ignatius concludes: "The Russia debacle may haunt America for generations. Mr. Gore played a key role in that messy process, and he has a lot of explaining to do."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Ingenious schemes to convert rubles into dollars are widespread

Britain's economic newspaper Financial Times publishes a pair of news analyses on what it labels the "storm over Moscow funds" and its U.S. thunderclouds. FT staffer Andrew Jack writes from Moscow that the practice of hiding money abroad is common among Russians. He cites authoritative economic studies which show that something like $70 billion slipped out of Russia in 1992 and 1993 alone. He says this: "Ingenious schemes to convert rubles into dollars and export them are widespread and used by very diverse groups of people." Jacks also writes, as he puts it: "Anonymous trust funds often registered in Cyprus and other offshore havens often conceal Russian citizens" [money].

FINANCIAL TIMES: At issue is whether those higher up were willing to look the other way

A FT team of staff writers in New York and London writes in a news analysis that the conservative Bank of New York is under a spotlight in the Russian scandal. In the words of their article: "At issue is whether in [its] thirst to capture new and lucrative business in Russia, Bank of New York employees relaxed controls and whether those higher up were willing to look the other way."

NEW YORK TIMES: The mobsters are masters of money laundering

In a commentary in The New York Times, author Robert I. Friedman, who is working on a book on the Russian mafia, says that intelligence agencies know that Russian gangsters have, in his phrase, "looted untold" thousands of millions of U.S. dollars from the states of the former Soviet Union. They have accumulated a capital base that allows them to operate in 50 countries, he says. In Friedman's words: "The mobsters are also masters of money laundering, taking ill-gotten gains and moving them through a sequence of bank accounts. The staggering scope of the Russian's mob operations make it a nightmare for international law enforcement agencies to keep track of them."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Trust in the president himself has come under pressure

Commenting in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Daniel Broessler says that the financial scandal in Russia for the first time has reached President Boris Yeltsin personally. Broessler notes from Italian and Swiss news organizations have been reporting allegations that the Swiss construction firm Mabetex paid a million dollars or more directly to Yeltsin and his two daughters, Tatyana Dyatchenko and Yelena Okulova, by way of a bank account in Hungary. Broessler writes this: "When Swiss radio and television reported that the [state prosecutor of the canton of Ticino in Lugano] confirmed the allegation, the bomb landed in Moscow -- if it had not already done so. The harm to the Kremlin is extensive. A few months before parliamentary elections in December, in which Yeltsin intends once again to pull the strings, trust in his aides as well as the president himself has come under pressure."

Other western papers look at Turkey, China, Iraq and North Africa.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Nobody is taking bets on the chances

Wolfgang Koydl in Istanbul comments in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Turkey's catastrophic earthquake has exposed the country's ruling elite as, in his words, "a nomenklatura [which] is immune to change, and intent only on preserving its own power; [one that] has lost all contact with a society which in contrast to its leaders has radically moved on." Koydl writes that the regime may, or may not, collapse, but, as he puts it: "At present nobody is taking bets on the chances, neither the population at large nor the powers-that-be themselves. Meanwhile, even their once speedy reflexes seem to be slowing down with old age."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Contradictory and alarming signals are coming from China

International commentator Flora Lewis writes in the International Herald Tribune that, in her phrase: "Contradictory and alarming signals are coming from China." She says that the mixed signals indicate tension in China's leadership. Lewis writes: "Economic reform has produced wonders, but is getting to more and more difficult stages." There is also the Falun Gong sect which, though apolitical, frightens the leadership because of China's history of sudden, emotional mass movements. Also, the commentator says, Chinese foreign affairs have turned worrisome.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Trade sanctions could be suspended

Two international scholars -- David Cortright, president of the U.S.-based Fourth Freedom Forum, and George A. Lopez, a fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies of the U.S. University of Notre Dame -- call in International Herald Tribune commentary for an end to international economic sanctions against Iraq. They say this: "The costs of sanctions to the Iraqi people and the United Nations itself far outweigh [any likely additional] gains." The writers say that trade sanctions could be suspended, while sanctions on military materials and, in their phrase, "major dual use technologies" could continue.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Things are on the move in the Maghreb

Writing from Paris in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Rudolph Chimelli says, in his phrase, "things are on the move" among the nations in the area of northwestern Africa known as the Maghreb. Chimelli writes: "The Maghreb as a political force does not exist. What happens in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and, on the periphery of the region, in Mauritania, is determined by national interests and often in conflict with neighboring states. The Union of the Arab Maghreb founded in 1989 did nothing to alter the fact that the five member-states all look to Europe and, with the exception of Libya, are all battling against poverty, unemployment and over-population."

But the writer perceives positive signs in the roles of Algeria's new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Morocco's new king, Mohammed. He notes that Tunisia will be holding presidential elections this autumn, and that Libya's revolutionary leader Moammar Gaddafi is seeking to emerge from isolation. Also, as the writer puts it: "The realization that similar problems require concerted action seems to be gaining ground. The two major countries in the region -- Morocco and Algeria -- are signaling their willingness to repair the long period of bad relations."