Former Russian atomic minister Adamov sentenced to 5 ½ years in penal colony for fraud and abuse of office

Publish date: February 20, 2008

Written by: Charles Digges

Yevgeny Adamov, the former Russian minister of atomic energy who is still wanted by Washington for pocketing millions in US aid money earmarked for increasing nuclear safety in Russia - and was then found guilty by Russian authorities of embezzlement of state funds and abuse of office - was sentenced to five and a half years Wednesday by a Moscow court.

The guilty verdict against Adamov, 68, who served as atomic minister from 1998 to 2001, was for defrauding the Russian government of some $31 million in US aid money and stock dividends that accrued on that aid money while held by Adamov.

Adamov will serve his time in a so-called standard regime penal colony in Siberia, the Russian RosBusinessConsulting news wire reported. In a curious addition to the sentence pronounced against him, Adamov is also forbidden to occupy any civil service posts for the next three years, the newswire said. He was taken into custody in the courtroom.

Adamov’s lawyer, Genry Reznik, has vowed to appeal the verdict against his client.

“Not one proof of Adamov’s guilt (…) has been shown in the case,” said Reznik. “Facts that attest to the defendant’s innocence were distorted.”

Adamov had defended stashing the American funding in various international and Russian businesses and banks to protect it from Russia’s roller-coaster economy in the late 1990s.

Adamov protests and says he will appeal

bodytextimage_ingressimage_adamov-prigovor1-1..jpg Photo: Vesti Russian state news

Adamov protested the guilty verdict, saying: "I will fight until the very end until the truth is established, which is that none of these people is guilty of anything," according to the ITAR-TASS state news agency.

On trial with Adamov were Vyacheslav Pismenny, the former head of the Troitsky Institute of Innovation and Thermonuclear Research, and Revmir Frayshut, former director of Tekhsnabeksport (Tenex)
Russia’s state enriched uranium sales giant.

Prosecutor Viktor Antipov had asked the court to sentence Adamov to nine years, and requested seven for Pismenny and five for Fraishtut.

Adamov’s co-defendants received 5-year suspended sentences as a result of “serious illnesses” supposedly suffered by both, according to the BBC’s Russian language service. Reznik will also be handling the appeals of Adamov’s co-defendants to overturn the guilty verdicts against them, Reznik said.

The verdict against Adamov was delivered yesterday in Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky District Court, which during the protracted reading of the findings against Adamov adjourned until Wednesday for sentencing.

The sentence falls short of what many environmental and anti-corruption groups in Russia and the prosecutor had hoped for, but also exceeds the suspended sentence many predicted he would receive as a result of his age.

The BBC Russian language service reported that the requested nine-year sentence had been reduced to five and a half by the judge in consideration of Adamov’s advanced years.

Brighter day for Russian justice than expected
Bellona’s chief nuclear physicist and Russian nuclear industry expert Nils Bohmer greeted the verdict as a step in the right direction, and said it showed some sign of hope in Russia’s tangled and corrupt judicial system, where high-stature government-connected defendants more often than not escape the consequences of large scale graft.

“This shows that crime doesn’t pay, even in Russia. Hopefully this verdict will discourage others from trying the same scams with international funding in the future,” said Boehmer.

But Boehmer stopped short of a full-scale endorsement of Russia’s legal system, saying that corruption is simply growing more sophisticated.

“In Russia’s machine under (President Vladimir) Putin, corruption like Adamov’s is more difficult to pull off – but then again government corruption is much more developed under this same regime,” he said.

Adamov initially charged by US Justice Department
Adamov was arrested in Switzerland on US warrant and jailed for nearly six months there in 2005. US federal prosecutors in the Western District of Pennsylvania wished for Adamov to stand trial in the US for bilking at least $9 million in US aid and laundering it through a series of banks and businesses – one called Omeka in Pittsburg.

The federal charges, emanating from the US Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Pennsylvania, were the result of more than a decade of investigation into Adamov’s business affairs by the US Justice Department.

However, as soon as the US issued their extradition request to the Swiss, Russia sent one of its own in a move to prevent Adamov and the Russian nuclear secrets he possessed from falling in to American hands.

The Russian’s were successful in persuading the Swiss to release Adamov into their custody to stand trial for government fraud and abuse of power.

He was extradited to Russia in December 2005, jailed and then freed on an agreement that he would not leave Moscow in July 2006.

US Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher issued a statement late Tuesday “congratulating the  (Russian) General Procuracy for the successful conviction” of Adamov, according to Margaret Philbin, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office in Pennsylvania.

Russians investigating Adamov since 2001
The Russians based the strength of their allegations on a parliamentary corruption investigation that deputies began in 2001.

Adamov was accused by deputies of illegally setting up companies inside and outside Russia while working as atomic energy minister and head of the ministry’s associated research institute, NIKIET.

Putin dismissed Adamov from his post that same year.

Adamov’s US partner given light sentence for cooperation

US Justice Department officials accused him and his partner, a Ukrainian born nuclear engineer with Westinghouse named Mark Kaushansky, of setting up US corporations and diverting US government funds intended to upgrade Chernobyl-style nuclear reactors and other nuclear security issues in Russia to these companies.

Kaushansky, who cooperated with investigators, was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced in Pittsburgh to a comparatively light 15 months in prison and a $63,000 fine for tax evasion in 2006.

Charges still stand against Adamov in the United States, Justice Department officials said Wednesday.

Had Adamov stood trial in the United States, as federal prosecutors had hoped, and been found guilty, he would have faced a 60-year sentence in a US federal prison.

Prosecutor Antipov said after sentencing that actual damages caused to the Russian government by Adamov’s activities are far more than the $31 million he was sentenced for.

"Due to his activities, through stealing financial securities and abusing his powers, the damage to Russia directly and through missed opportunities, comes to almost $1bn," said Antipov.