MOSCOW, April 19 (RIA Novosti) – Russian investigators on Friday accused a senior manager of the Skolkovo Foundation, a high-tech innovation hub, of embezzling $750,000 in state funds and paying the money to an opposition lawmaker who supported last year’s anti-Kremlin protests.
The criminal case, the latest of several targeting Skolkovo executives, has been opened against the foundation’s vice president, Alexei Beltyukov, on the suspicion that he gave the large sum of foundation money to State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov between February 2011 and February 2012, allegedly for a series of lectures and research projects, the Russian Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Ponomaryov was paid $300,000 to deliver 10 lectures in various Russian cities, and also got another $450,000 for scientific and research work, the Investigative Committee added.
“Beltyukov attempted to conceal the misappropriation of such a large sum by signing a number of agreements between the [Skolkovo] foundation and Ponomaryov,” the committee said in a statement.
Investigators said they were looking into the deal to check how much of it Ponomaryov has fulfilled.
Beltyukov denied the allegations on Friday, saying the foundation hired Ponomaryov and paid him on a legal basis.
Ponomaryov, who took an active part in the mass opposition protests in Russia last year, dismissed the case as “politically motivated.”
“In the period when the agreement was signed, Beltyukov was not even working at the foundation,” Ponomaryov told RIA Novosti, adding he had completely fulfilled his obligations under the reported contract.
Investigators said the probe was started following accusations by Liberal Democratic Parthy of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who claimed Ponomaryov was involved in illegal business activities.
The Skolkovo Foundation, a pet project of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev opened during his presidency in 2010, is often called Russia’s “Silicon Valley” and was intended to lead the country’s drive to diversify and modernize its economy and increase the output of high-tech products.
The foundation has come under the scrutiny of investigators recently, with several senior officials being accused of corruption.
On Thursday, police and Federal Security Service (FSB) officers searched the foundation’s headquarters in Moscow as part of an ongoing investigation into possible embezzlement of millions of rubles by senior Skolkovo managers.
Former senior Skolkovo manger Kirill Lugovtsev and the head of the foundation’s subsidiary Skolkovo Innovation Center Customs Finance Company (TFK Skolkovo) Vladimir Khokhlov have been accused of involvement in the embezzlement of 24 million rubles (about $760,000) from federal budget funds.
The Investigative Committee has also said it is probing information from the FSB indicating that 3.5 billion rubles in federal funds provided to Skolkovo stayed parked in a bank account for a long period of time.
Ponomaryov suggested on Friday the series of allegations indicate two ongoing campaigns, “on the one hand against the opposition and on the other hand against modernization of the economy.” He did not say who might be behind the efforts.
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Skolkovo Innovation Center