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Russia: Manevich Threats Surface; Police Chief Criticized

  • Brian Whitmore

St. Petersburg, 9 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova was scheduled to meet St. Petersburg's slain Deputy Governor Mikhail Manevich August 19 to discuss threats the city privatization chief had been receiving from organized crime figures.

Starovoitova tells RFE/RL that Manevich was planning to turn over to Starovoitova documents related to the threats that had "suggestions (from the criminal organizations) about how to redistribute property." And, Starovoitova said that "some definite names" were mentioned in the documents.

Manevich was assassinated one day earlier -- August 18 -- as he was being driven to work in St. Petersburg.

Starovoitova says the documents have been seized by local investigators. But, a spokeswoman for the local police tells our St. Petersburg correspondent she knows nothing about the alleged documents.

Starovoitova says she does not believe the assassination of Manevich was "a political gesture," but, was "connected with attempts to redistribute (local) real estate. This is of interest to criminal structures," she says.

Starovoitova said Manevich did not take seriously the threats he was receiving, adding: "He thought that he was doing his business in a pretty proper and honest way, and he thought that this meant that he could not be threatened."

The Manevich case could result in a vote of no-confidence in the city's flamboyant Police Chief, Anatoly Ponidelko. Ponidelko is scheduled to appear before the city's Legislative Assembly Law and Order Committee Friday to discuss the performance of his police force. Though a vote of no-confidence in Ponidelko and his force would not be legally binding, it would certainly politically damage this brash and unconventional reformer, who has fired about 500 officers for incompetence and corruption, since being appointed last December.

The assembly deputy who sponsored the no-confidence motion, Alexander Shchelkanov, said, "Manevich's murder is the last and most serious confirmation we need to say that the criminal situation in St. Petersburg has definitely gotten worse -- not better." Ponidelko is a man who simply is not qualified for his job, says Shchelkanov.

Pressure is mounting on Ponidelko, after City Governor Vladimir Yakovlev personally asked the Legislative Assembly for a formal review of the St. Petersburg police force.

Since he took office in December and began a crackdown, Ponidelko has accused the men on his force, on various occasions, of being corrupt, incompetent and drunk. But, last week, Yakovlev said: "These 'cleanup' operations have cost many good police officers their jobs."

Ponidelko's situation has been met with some understanding, if not outright support. Assembly Deputy Valery Ostrovsky said that Ponidelko is the first law enforcement official to speak publicly and frankly about the problems of corruption, incompetence and drunkenness among St Petersburg's police. Ostrovsky said there is enough blame to go around for the sad state of law enforcement in the city.

(Brian Whitmore is a St. Peterburg-based journalist who contributes routinely to RFE/RL.)