Putin Parliamentary Critic Seeks Apology over Business Claims

Under-fire Russian opposition lawmaker Gennady Gudkov forwarded to a parliamentary incomes and property committee on Tuesday documents that he said would prove his innocence of charges of illegal business activities.

A statement issued by Gudkov said he was also seeking a “public apology” over the allegations.

Russia’s Prosecutor General asked lawmakers late last week to oust Gudkov, 56, from the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, so that it could bring charges against him over suspected fraudulent business dealings in Bulgaria. State Duma lawmakers are forbidden from direct involvement in commercial activity, but receive legal immunity while serving their terms. Gudkov said earlier this year he had suspended his business activities after entering parliament in 2001.

The ruling United Russia party confirmed on Monday that it would back an expected September 12 vote on Gudkov’s expulsion if his “unlawful activities” were confirmed.

Gudkov and his son Dmitry, both State Duma lawmakers with the leftist A Just Russia party, have been leading figures in the unprecedented protests against President Vladimir Putin that erupted after last December’s disputed parliamentary poll. Nationwide anti-Kremlin demonstrations are due to continue later this month after a summer hiatus.

And Gudkov told RIA Novosti on Monday that he believed the charges against him were revenge for his high-profile opposition activities.

“This is a clear political order from the Kremlin,” Gudkov said. “The authorities are ready to do anything to hang onto power.”

Only two State Duma lawmakers have been expelled from parliament without a court ruling in post-Soviet history. The first was notorious MMM financial pyramid founder Sergei Mavrodi, who was dismissed in 1995, while the second was Dagestani lawmaker Nadirshakh Khachilayev who was ousted over terrorism allegations.

Gudkov said earlier this summer that he had been forced to sell off “for almost nothing” his two-decade private security business after pressure from the authorities that he said was “revenge” for his support of the protest movement.

Gudkov – like Putin, a former KGB officer – is the latest opposition figure to face problems since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in May.

Opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny could face up to ten years after investigators reopened old embezzlement charges against him in July. Former political activist Taisia Osipova was sentenced to eight years in prison last week on drug charges her supporters say were revenge for her refusal to testify against her husband, a leading member of the radical Other Russia opposition movement. And in perhaps the most visible case, three women from punk group Pussy Riot received two-year prison sentences each on August 17 for a protest against Orthodox Church support for Putin in Moscow’s largest cathedral.

“If things continue like this, there will be serious social unrest,” Gudkov warned. “I see no other outcome.”

But an influential United Russia lawmaker told RIA that only those with “irreproachable reputations” had the right to criticize the authorities.

“Before criticizing, you need to be a role model with an irreproachable reputation, something that Gudkov obviously does not possess,” said Vyacheslav Lysakov, the head of the All-Russia People’s Movement, created by Putin last year to broaden United Russia’s electoral base.

The head of A Just Russia, Sergei Mironov, last week slammed the move against Gudkov as “political payback” and said that “several dozen lawmakers” are involved in business.

Despite serious setbacks at December’s polls, United Russia managed to hang onto a parliamentary majority and would not need votes from opposition lawmakers to force through Gudkov’s expulsion.


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