Russian ex-minister's Swiss accounts blocked in money-laundering probe

Russian ex-minister's Swiss accounts blocked in money-laundering probe
By bne IntelliNews October 29, 2015

The Swiss General Prosecutor's Office has confirmed the arrest of the Swiss accounts of Russia's former agriculture minister Yelena Skrynnik under a long-standing money-laundering investigation.

Skrynnik's blocked assets are worth CHF60mn ($61mn), RIA Novosti reported on October 29. Her former deputy Alexei Bazhanov's accounts with CHF12mn were also arrested within the framework of a money laundering investigation. The former minister was allegedly connected to criminal scheme of embezzlement of budget funds, Russia's Interior Ministry reported in 2012.

Skrynnik, who served as agriculture minister for three years from 2009 and currently lives in France, rejected the grounds for a probe into her finances.

"It's total lies. I don't have that sort of money," the ex-minister told the Russian News Service radio station on October 28, declining to say whether she had foreign bank accounts.

Skrynnik's tenure as minister ended in 2012 when she was dismissed over her alleged involvement in nepotism and illegal activities to generate income. A Candidate of Sciences in economics since 2010, she was also stripped of her degree in December 2014 after her thesis was proven to have been heavily plagiarised.

A source close to the Swiss actions told Interfax news agency that overall investigators were probing the origin of $140mn deposited on Skrynnik's accounts in Swiss banks between 2007 and 2012. The investigation stems back to agricultural business conducted by Skrynnik and her associates during the 2000s.

A group of officials from Rosagroleasing, the state company that leases equipment to agro sector, was previously found to have issued fake documents for supplies of equipment for distilleries and farms. Budget funds allocated for this purposes were reportedly transferred to the British company Bryce Becker, founded by Skrynnik. Funds also went to the accounts of AgroEvroSoyuz, owned by her brother. The damage from the embezzlement is estimated at about RUB39bn ($597mn).

Yelena Skrynnik was the chairperson of the Russian Association of Leasing Companies Rosleasing in 1997-2001. She held the position of general director of Rosagroleasing in 2001-2009 before her appointment as minister. She still nominally holds the post of  Russian presidential adviser for agriculture.

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