Yevgeny Adamov proclaims innocence after partner pleads guilty to U.S. charges

Russia's former atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov proclaimed his innocence again Wednesday on U.S. charges of tax evasion and money laundering, two days after his former partner pleaded guilty to similar charges in a U.S. court.

"I am not worried because I am not guilty," Adamov told reporters at a news conference.

U.S. prosecutors allege Adamov and Mark M. Kaushansky stole US$9 million from the United States, other countries and corporations by setting up U.S. corporations to which they diverted money that had been intended to improve Russia's nuclear safety.

Kaushansky pleaded guilty Monday in a U.S. federal court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and eight counts of tax evasion. Asked by the judge why he was pleading guilty, Kaushansky said: "I just decided to admit that some tax-related irregularities were made."

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said in a statement Monday that the indictment alleges Adamov was primarily responsible for diverting the money, but that Kaushansky "was most directly involved with the concealment and expenditure of those funds."

Adamov told reporters in Moscow that he was a patriot who had tried to help Russia's impoverished nuclear workers and to protect Russia's national interests. He said Kaushansky had "sins" and that Kaushansky indeed failed to pay taxes.

Adamov also accused prosecutors of grasping at straws and forcing Kaushansky to plead guilty to justify the cost of their multiyear investigation.

"We are witnessing, in front of our very eyes, the destruction of the pretty picture which was constructed and which perfectly confirmed the myth ... that everything in Russia is for sale, that all authorities in Russia are for sale," Adamov said.

During his tenure in office, he said, "I never once by my side saw thieves or corrupt officials."

Adamov said he had been prepared to cooperate with U.S. investigators, but that they refused to agree to certain conditions _ including not insisting that he travel in handcuffs and guaranteeing he would not face physical or psychological pressure. He also accused U.S. investigators of trying to squeeze him for Russian nuclear secrets and classified information.

Adamov was fired in 2001 by President Vladimir Putin, and a parliamentary committee accused him of illegally setting up companies inside and outside Russia.

He was arrested in Switzerland in May 2005 after being indicted, and U.S. officials sought to have him face trial in the United States, but Russian officials opposed that, arguing that he should face trial on similar charges in his home country.

A Moscow court in August sent the fraud and abuse of power case against Adamov back to prosecutors for reworking, citing procedural and other violations, and he has been free on bail since July.

He faces up to 10 years in prison in Russia if convicted.