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Russian UN Diplomat Arrested on Money Laundering Charges

A Russian diplomat who heads a powerful United Nations administrative committee has been arrested in New York on money laundering charges. The official was taken into custody after his diplomatic immunity was revoked.

U.S. law enforcement authorities say Vladimir Kuznetsov was arrested Thursday. He is a senior Russian foreign ministry official and chairman of the committee that oversees the United Nations budget.

The 48-year old diplomat was arrested after Secretary-General Kofi Annan waived his diplomatic immunity. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton confirmed Friday that he had briefed the secretary-general on the matter, and thanked him for his quick action. "We made the request yesterday to waive diplomatic privileges and immunities. We want to thank the secretary-general for his personal and very prompt decision to waive privileges and immunities. Our understanding is that Mr. Kuznetsov was brought into custody yesterday evening. This is now a serious law enforcement matter and we will have no further comment," he said.

Mr. Kuznetsov is the second Russian national working at the United Nations to be arrested on money laundering charges in recent weeks. Alexander Yakovlev, an official in the U.N. procurement office, was arrested August 8.

An indictment charged Mr. Yakovlev had solicited a bribe from a firm seeking a lucrative contract through the Iraq oil-for-food program. He pleaded guilty, and now faces a prison term of up to 20 years on each of three charges.

A separate indictment unsealed by federal prosecutors in New York Friday alleges that Mr. Kuznetzov set up an offshore company in 2000 to hide criminal proceeds from an unidentified U.N. procurement officer. In a statement, the prosecutors said when Mr. Kuznetsov learned of the procurement officer's activities, he had agreed to take a share of the proceeds rather than inform law enforcement authorities.

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Andrei Denisov, Friday confirmed details of the arrest, but questioned Secretary-General Annan's authority to waive Mr. Kuznetsov's diplomatic immunity. He suggested that since Mr. Kuznetsov is foreign ministry official elected by the General Assembly as head of a standing U.N. committee, his immunity might only be waived by Moscow.

Ambassador Denisov and law enforcement officers noted that the case against Mr. Kuznetsov appears to have little to do with the scandal-plagued oil-for food program.

An independent inquiry into the oil-for-food scandal led by former U.S. central bank chief Paul Volcker is due to issue a comprehensive report on its findings next Wednesday. The report is expected to fault Secretary-General Annan, saying he bears primary responsibility for mismanagement, criticizing him for failing to halt abuses in the program.

The oil-for-food program operated from 1996 to 2003, allowing Saddam Hussein's Iraq to sell oil to buy humanitarian supplies at a time the country was under U.N. sanctions. But investigators have shown how Saddam quickly took advantage of the program to earn billions of dollars in illegal profits, part of which he used to try to buy influence on the Security Council.