A Russian judge has found former atomic energy minister, Yevgeny Adamov, guilty of abuse of office and embezzling millions of dollars earmarked for buttressing security upgrades to Russian reactors while he served as the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy and head of the ministry’s associated nuclear engineering institute NIKIET.
"The court has established that defendant Adamov committed fraud by stealing… abusing his office, which entailed substantial damage to state interests," the Russian judge said on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday afternoon Moscow time, the verdict against Adamov was still being read. Yekaterina Novozhilova, assistant to the chief judge at Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky District Court, said the judge’s reading of the lengthy verdict would resume Wednesday, when sentencing was also expected.
Russian prosecutors are asking that Adamov, 67, be sentenced to nine years in jail. Adamov continues to deny any wrong doing, according to Bellona Web correspondent Viktoria Kopeikina, who was outside the Zamoskvoretsky Court Tuesday.
“I have a clear conscience,” said Adamov in televised remarks leaving the Moscow courthouse.
Bellona greets the guilty verdict against Adamov
“It is good to see that he has been found guilty, but we will not know the significance of this until Adamov is sentenced,” said Nils Boehmer, Bellona’s nuclear physicist and a Russian nuclear industry expert.
“The verdict shows that Russia is at least trying to spend money correctly without channeling it into the wrong pockets and we hope that this will bode well for future international nonproliferation projects with Russia,” he said.
Adamov, who served as nuclear power minister from 1998 to 2001, was arrested in Switzerland in May 2005 after being indicted in the United States on charges of stealing $9 million that was earmarked for improving nuclear safety in Russia.
US authorities pressed the Swiss government for Adamov to face trial in America, but Russian officials, fearing he would be pressured to reveal Russian state nuclear secrets, countered that he should be tried in Moscow and filed extradition papers of their own.
A Swiss court inclined to extradite Adamov to Russia in December 2005 and has been free on bail since July 2006.
The verdict so far
The judge at the Zamoskvoretsky District Court said Adamov and two co-defendants had stolen 62 percent of the shares in a Russian-U.S. uranium joint venture and pocketed US$31 million (€21 million), according to the Interfax news agency.
The other defendants are 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.
Defiant Adamov vows to continue fight
"I will fight until the very end until the truth is established, which is that none of these people is guilty of anything," Interfax quoted Adamov as saying during a short break in the court session Tuesday.
Defense lawyer Henri Reznik said he would appeal the ruling, the Associated Press reported.
A scandal-tarred, ecologically ruinous past
Adamov was dismissed in 2001 by President Vladimir Putin, and an anti-corruption committee in parliament later accused him of illegally setting up companies inside and outside of Russia.
Among his more egregious feats of corruption and environmental crime came with the passage of a raft of legislation in 2001 allowing for the import of spent nuclear fuel to Russia. Passed by Russian parliament, several deputies later admitted to Bellona and The Moscow Times they had been bribed and otherwise wined and dined to support the initiative.
Adamov had sold the legislation on the notion that Russia could earn as much as $20 billion by opening Russia’s borders for foreign spent fuel and reprocessing, noted Russian Bellona Russian nuclear industry expert Igor Kudrik.
“Taking into consideration that he managed to misuse $30 million just on safety upgrade programmes I won’t dare say how much he would have pocketed on spent nuclear fuel import, leaving a hard legacy to the future generations of Russians,” said Kudrik.
Kudrik took a dim view that Adamov’s conviction had anything to do with Russian justice working, and said it was rather the consequence of Adamov neglecting spread around the wealth he was convicted of pocketing – something that is not tolerated in the more organised systems of official corruption with the Putin government.
“The reason Adamov is in the court no is not because he has stolen the money, but because he did not share with the others in power. Adamov was a child of the Yeltsin era, where the corruption was in its infancy in comparison to today’s situation in Russia,’ said Kudrik.
More than 10 years of investigation in US
The US corruption case against Adamov has been running for more than a decade, and began in the United States where the Federal Bureau of Investigation probed the disappearance in the early 1990s of $9 million earmarked by the US Department of Energy (DOE) for security upgrades at Russian nuclear power plants as part of America’s myriad nonproliferation activities within the post-Soviet nuclear industrial complex.
The money was to go for safety system and security upgrades on vulnerable and aged reactors, as well as training for Russian scientists to conduct research in realising this goal.
Adamov’s US partner convicted in 2006
According to the US Justice Department and US Prosecutors in the Western District of Pennsylvania, Adamov and a partner, Ukrainian-born Westinghouse engineer Mark Kaushansky, had several business interests and bank account that were linked by American investigators to laundering the US aid funding.
Adamov’s US partner and co-defendant, Kaushansky, plead guilty in September 2006 in a Pittsburg federal court and cooperated with US investigators, receiving a relatively light sentence of 15 months in prison and a $20,000 fine, as well as ordering him to pay a bill for $63,000 in tax arrears.
Kaushansky’s attorney, Fred Thieman, said Kaushansky and Adamov had funneled money through banks around the world to keep it safe from Russia’s volatile economic market and to pay impoverished Russian nuclear scientists.
The charges against Adamov are still standing in the United States, where he would have faced up to 60 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors there.
Adamov’s daughter, Irina, had been under investigation for suspected money laundering in Switzerland until late last year, when the case was dropped for what Swiss prosecutors said was insufficient evidence, AP said.
Adamov’s trial began in 2006, but was interrupted twice by alleged procedural errors and Adamov’s demand that the judge be replaced. The current trial began in April.