RUSSIA - Special investigation teams have raided the offices of IBM, the Russian Pension Fund and two Russian computer companies in connection with allegations of embezzlement of pension money.
While the allegations have still to be investigated, a Russian MP suggests a political motive behind what is being called the "computer case".
"Some executives in [the Russian Pension Fund], who are responsible for tenders for the procurement of equipment, conspired with representatives of the commercial firms R-Style, Lanit and IBM to misappropriate the allocated funds," the Russian interior ministry investigative committee said in a statement.
The authorities claim that the tenders by the RUB1.5trn (€40bn) pension fund put out for software and computer equipment were only a formality with R-Style and Lanit always getting the contracts to supply mainly IBM computers and software for the fund's personal accounts system.
Allegedly the companies charged the pension fund more than the market value of the equipment sharing the profit with pension fund executives.
"We are co-operating with the authorities," was the only comment Jonathan Batty, spokesman for IBM in Moscow could give IPE.
Russian media quoted R-Style's lawyer as calling the accusations "irresponsible and unfounded". A spokesman for Lanit said: "The prices that were proposed by our company were absolutely market prices."
A 2005 audit of the pension fund had found that RUB1.1bn had been used ineffectively for the purchase of computer equipment. It is yet unclear, whether this finding is linked to the current raids.
Pension Fund head Gennady Batanov commented that he is not the one responsible for awarding contracts and putting out tenders. According to news reports his offices were not searched but sealed by the police. Batanov took over from current health and social development minister Mikhail Zurabov as head of the pension fund in 2004.
"I am certain that [the criminal case involving the Pension Fund] was initiated by Zubarov himself," state Duma member Alexander Khinshtein told the Russian daily kommersant.
"That is how he is trying to get rid of Batanov management which is undesirable to him. The thing is that Batanov refused to take Zurabov's orders when choosing winners of tenders."