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Russian Officials Say U.S. Media Exaggerate Corruption Scandal

By Maura Reynolds
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- MOSCOW

Top Russian officials acknowledged Wednesday that Russia has serious problems with corruption and other financial crimes but accused U.S. media of exaggerating the problem as part of an anti-Russia smear campaign.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov -- the first high-ranking officials to respond to recent allegations of widespread money laundering -- accused U.S. journalists and politicians of rushing to judgment on the basis of unproven allegations.

“Everything connected with money laundering, everything connected with the criminal side of this kind of activity, all this is in the field of vision of our law enforcement agencies,” Putin told reporters. Russian investigators “are constantly in touch” with the FBI and other U.S. authorities, he said.

“If someone moved by political considerations wants to blow some topics out of proportion, let them do it,” Putin said. “It will neither hasten or hamper the work of our law enforcement bodies.”

In recent weeks, news reports suggesting that billions of dollars originating in Russia were funneled through U.S. banks, including the Bank of New York, have spurred suspicions of money laundering.

While no one has been charged, some observers and politicians in the United States have called for an end to financial aid to Russia, especially assistance provided by the International Monetary Fund.

A separate scandal over whether Kremlin officials and members of President Boris N. Yeltsin’s family accepted kickbacks from a Swiss engineering company also have cast a shadow of suspicion over the Russian government.

Ivanov accused some U.S. publications of using unproven allegations against individuals and companies to condemn Russia as a whole.

“Yes, (corruption) exists, and it exists not only in Russia. Yes, this problem must be tackled, and the corresponding bodies in Russia are doing it,” Ivanov said.

“But the way it is being done by some mass media in the West, under the pretext of still unconfirmed facts -- they are trying to besmirch our country, to besmirch our society, to besmirch our business community and our entrepreneurs,” Ivanov said.