Moscow, 20 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Alexander Korzhakov, the former Kremlin security chief and confidante of President Boris Yeltsin, has revealed personal knowledge that may have a bearing on the fate of Andrei Kozlenok, a Russian diamond trader in jail in Athens awaiting extradition to Moscow.
Kozlenok was arrested by Greek police as he arrived at Athens airport in January. In a warrant issued by the Russian state prosecutor, he is accused of embezzling about 180-million dollars in diamonds and precious metals from Russian state stocks in 1993 and 1994. The Russians have applied for his extradition, and a Greek court has ruled that Kozlenok should be handed over.
RFE/RL's 'Newsline' reported May 19 that Greece's Supreme Court last week (May 15) decided Kozlenok should be extradited, and Greece's Justice Ministry, which has final authority on extraditions, is expected to approve the ruling.
Kozlenok argued that the case against him is politically motivated, and Russian authorities will intimidate or silence witnesses who could vindicate him. He also claimed that, if he returns to Russia, he might suffer the same fate as a former associate, who was found hanged in his jail cell. Russian authorities say the death was suicide.
Several former high-ranking officials in the government and the State Committee on Precious Metals might be implicated in the case.
Kozlenok has also claimed his diamond operations were authorized by the Kremlin for political purposes. One of these, Kozlenok told a Russian newspaper in April, paid for the publication of a book of memoirs by President Yeltsin. According to Kozlenok, money from his diamond operations went "into the fund of presidential programs of Russia. Probably, the money was used for publication of the book."
Russia has been applying intense diplomatic pressure on the Greek government to return Kozlenok. The Russian press has been filled with unsubstantiated speculation about Kozlenok's spending sprees, and the involvement of high-ranking officials in the alleged embezzlement.
During the period of Kozlenok's activities, Korzhakov was the head of Yeltsin's personal security. He was also one of Yeltsin's constant companions. In time, Korzhakov became a powerful and influential decision-maker in his own right, keeping watch over all of the president's subordinates and ministers.
Then, June 20, 1996, Korzhakov was abruptly sacked, after disputes with former first deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais became embarrassingly public, amid evidence of high-level corruption.
Korzhakov then campaigned for a seat in the State Duma, where he remains today. He has also published a memoir of his time with Yeltsin, and went on the open attack against the president, his family, and those who currently run the Kremlin. "The president is an empty bottle, filled by others around him," Korzhakov told RFE/RL in an interview.
He publicly warns that he has amassed details of corruption among Yeltsin's advisors and high government officials from investigations he and his subordinates gathered, when they were in the Kremlin. A new book of these details is to be released very soon, Korzhakov said.
Asked what he knows about Kozlenok, Korzhakov told RFE/RL he had investigated the diamond transactions by Kozlenok's San Francisco-based company, Golden ADA, and passed them on with his recommendations to President Yeltsin. "I received the materials about Golden ADA, and sent them to the President. They were met with total indifference. There were major violations and shady deals, but nothing was done."
Korzhakov suggests the Kremlin investigation he ordered could substantiate the claim that some of the money generated by the scheme was diverted to Yeltsin's book. "I don't exclude this," Korzhakov said, adding he thought this likely because Boris Berezovsky, the Yeltsin family's advisor and a wealthy financier, "was in charge of this book." Korzhakov expresses deep hostility towards Berezovsky.
Korzhakov returned several times in his interview with RFE/RL to the theme of Yeltsin's betrayal of those closest to him. According to Korzhakov, he had predicted Chernomyrdin's dismissal well before it happened, in an interview with Argumenty i Fakty, that was never published. Korzhakov is now predicting the sacking of Pavel Borodin, who heads the Presidential Business Administration. "Of all the people Yeltsin once trusted, only Borodin is left. There is now an unprecedented campaign against Borodin to get him out. The next dismissal will be Borodin."
According to Korzhakov, the President "now lives in a virtual world. He is not in control of himself." And, Korzhakov claims the dominant influence is exercised by Yeltsin's daughter, Tatiana Dyachenko. The appointment of Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko was arranged by her, Korzhakov claims, after a family business associate brought Kiriyenko to Dyachenko's attention.
Kiriyenko is "the president's barbie doll", Korzhakov said.
Korzhakov adds that he is convinced Yeltsin intends to run for a third term.