Russian Enjoys Scandal Fame

The central figure in Russia's unfolding Kremlin bribery probe joked on Saturday that he was enjoying the fame that came with the scandal but called the allegations against him "madness."

Speaking in a radio interview, Pavel Borodin said that President Boris Yeltsin saw the case as a political witch-hunt against him personally.

Borodin runs the department responsible for the presidency's vast real-estate holdings and has been at the center of allegations that a Swiss building firm bribed Kremlin officials to obtain contracts.

Borodin's name and that of his wife were included on a list of Russians about whom Swiss prosecutors requested information, concerning the bribery probe.

An Italian newspaper has said that Borodin accepted money on behalf of Yeltsin from the Swiss firm, Mabetex, which received contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate public buildings.

Borodin and the Kremlin have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Mabetex also denies that it paid any bribes, and says it is going to court to get Russia to pay unpaid bills.

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio on Saturday, Borodin joked that the entire scandal was "free advertising" for him.

"All the well known television companies of the world are showing my photo -- quite a handsome photo... If I ran for president of the United States I would probably win," he said.

In a related story, the former top investigator of the bribery probe confirmed Friday he had been taken off the case and said his dismissal would hurt the investigation.

"I think that (the dismissal) will have a bad effect on the criminal case, on the interests of the case," said Georgy Chuglazov.

Swiss officials said in July they were looking into accounts linked to 24 current and former Kremlin officials.

Chuglazov said he had been removed from the staff of the investigative department at the prosecutor's office and made an advisor to the prosecutor general, an ostensible promotion that does not carry the authority to issue charges in the case.

"I was on the front line. Now I am at the rear," he said.

"Everything was put into a very beautiful package," he said of his promotion. "But investigators are not stupid and the people at the prosecutor's office are not stupid, and everybody knows why I was dismissed." He did not elaborate.

Chuglazov was supposed to fly to Switzerland this week to discuss the case with Swiss officials and learned only after he had packed his bags he would not be permitted to go.

He said he had heard this was "to save on travel expenses."

Another investigator, Nikolai Volkov, did fly to Switzerland and met Swiss officials, but Chuglazov said Volkov was working only on other cases and had was not involved at all in the investigation of the Mabetex affair.

The prosecutor's office has undergone numerous personnel changes since the case was firt launched.

In another high-profile case, U.S. authorities are trying to determine whether Russian organized crime groups funneled up to $10 billion illegally through accounts in the Bank of New York.