Pavel Borodin, the former top Kremlin official detained in New York on a Swiss warrant, has announced his intention to voluntarily surrender to Swiss authorities. But Borodin's attorney says the decision is not an admittance of guilt but rather a way of expediting the process for Borodin to prove he is innocent of corruption charges and to resume his duties as a state secretary of the Union of Belarus and Russia. RFE/RL's Nikola Krastev reports from New York.
New York, 3 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Former top Kremlin aide Pavel Borodin brought a quick end to his extradition hearing yesterday (2 April) by announcing he would waive his rights to challenge extradition to Switzerland.
U.S. Magistrate Viktor Pohorelsky signed the extradition order at the end of the brief hearing. Officials from both the defense and prosecution teams said the decision means that in about one week Borodin will be flown from New York to Geneva in the custody of Swiss police.
Borodin will end nearly three months of incarceration in a New York City detention center. More important, say Borodin and his attorneys, he will be able to face the corruption charges made by Swiss authorities and have a chance to prove his innocence. Pohorelsky had rejected Borodin's request last month to be released on bail, which left him with the possibility of contesting his extradition while in detention, potentially for months.
Borodin said through an interpreter yesterday that the allegations against him of corruption and abuse of power were "far-fetched and unfounded."
Russian prosecutors last year closed their investigation into the Kremlin corruption case after more than two years and said that Swiss authorities failed to provide evidence. But Switzerland kept the case open and issued an international warrant for Borodin.
Swiss prosecutors have said Russian authorities were not thorough enough in pursuing corruption investigations against high-ranking Kremlin officials.
The Swiss magistrate investigating Borodin's activities in a number of construction contracts involving Swiss companies has concluded that Borodin abused his position as the manager of the affairs of the Russian president's office from 1993 to 2000.
The Swiss authorities allege that Borodin extracted approximately $30 million in kickbacks for awarding contracts related to the reconstruction of the Kremlin, reparation work on the presidential plane, and the restoration of public buildings. While there are no criminal charges against Borodin so far, his U.S.-based attorney, Barry Kingham, says such charges may arise once Borodin is transferred to Switzerland:
"He would be presented to the Swiss authorities originally on the warrant that was issued to bring him before the magistrate for questioning. But one would expect in the normal course that he may be accused of crimes under Swiss law after he arrives in Switzerland. That will not be surprising, given the circumstances and the way the Swiss government [has] behaved."
After his arrest by U.S. authorities at a New York airport on 17 January, Borodin was held in a federal detention center pending his bail and extradition hearings. Borodin's defense team had argued that his release on bail was important so he could perform his duties as state secretary for the Belarus-Russia Union. Judge Pohorelsky denied the bail petition on 9 March.
While acknowledging the extraordinary circumstances of Borodin's case and the importance of his government position, Pohorelsky said that there was no guarantee that, if released on bail, Borodin would not simply go to a diplomatic mission of the Russian Federation and thus put himself out of the reach of the U.S. and Swiss authorities.
Kingham yesterday reiterated Borodin's wish to resume his duties as secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union. Kingham said that Borodin could no longer work on behalf of the union or hope to see his family in the near future if he contested his extradition.
But Kingham told reporters Borodin's decision to waive his rights should in no way be taken as a sign that he is acknowledging his guilt.
"Absolutely not. To the contrary, it's Mr. Borodin's opportunity to contest his guilt before the Swiss courts. And, as you know, the Swiss courts have already twice found that he has not committed any crime in Russia or Switzerland."
Borodin's hearing took place on the same day as Russian and Belarusian officials marked the fifth anniversary of their informal union.
Borodin addressed his statement in court yesterday to the Russia-Belarus Union's Supreme State Council. He said that the U.S. federal prosecutor's office, acting on behalf of Switzerland, objected to his release on bail on "purely political" grounds, including what he called "baseless criticism" of the Russia-Belarus Union.