Russian Graft Poses Law Enforcement Challenge

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Just whom can you trust in Moscow these days? That's the challenge facing U.S. officials probing an alleged money-laundering scandal in which $15 billion is said to have been funneled out of Russia through the staid Bank of New York. Members of the investigating task force were reported Wednesday to be reluctant to share information with their Russian colleagues, for fear that such information would find its way quickly into the hands of the targets of the probe. "The concern here is not that individual criminals have bought off individual law enforcement officials, but rather that the police, prosecution and security services all toe the line of the political powers that be," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "Russia’s huge, well-organized criminal organizations were born, and continue to thrive, because of their access to political power."

The apparent hesitation of American law-enforcement officials to involve their Russian counterparts comes at the same time that the White House finds itself under increasing criticism for having shoveled billions in aid to Moscow through the International Monetary Fund, much of which appears to have been siphoned off by criminal elements. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers was quoted Wednesday as vowing to halt all further IMF aid to Russia until the Kremlin had provided satisfactory accounting for previous loans. Meanwhile, the Yeltsin administration’s performance over the issue hasn’t given Western law enforcement much cause for confidence. The best efforts of a wide array of U.S. agencies to get the Russians to tackle money laundering have simply floundered. The New York Times reported Wednesday that a law against money laundering, developed with the help of U.S. officials, was twice passed by Russia’s parliament –- and twice vetoed by Boris Yeltsin.