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Russia: Corruption Cases Used To Discipline Regions

St. Petersburg. 8 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian federal prosecutor has filed corruption charges against the speaker of the St. Petersburg legislative assembly for allegedly misappropriating public funds to remodel his own apartment.

The prosecutor has also formally asked the Federation Council, the upper house of Russian parliament, to strip Kravtsov of his immunity from prosecution, a privilege he enjoys as a member of the council. The council is to decide the matter next week.

Kravtsov himself could not be reached for comment, but a former assistant to the Legislative Assembly speaker said that Kravtsov was confident that his innocence would be proven in court and planned to ask the Federation Council to comply with the prosecutor's request.

The case may be a prelude to a wider crackdown on corruption and part of an attempt by the Kremlin to reign in Russia's regions.

The announcement of criminal charges against Kravtsov comes on the heels of a visit last month to St. Petersburg by Kremlin Chief of Staff Anatoly Chubais. He said then at a Smolny press conference that the Russian state will begin to use its power to force compliance with the law.

Three days ago, Chubais announced in Moscow that the Kremlin would begin cracking down on disobedient and uncooperative regions.

The Kremlin is currently gearing up for a fight with the regions to reign in newly-elected governors and corruption allegations and investigations are one weapon in that battle, analysts say.

A separate investigation into the allegedly illegal privatization of a building that benefited a family of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak and several high-level members of his administration was also launched this summer but has been stalled.

But the case against Kravtsov appears now to provide an useful opportunity to the Kremlin to demonstrate its willingness to crack down on corruption and keep the regions in line.

Sergei Markov, a senior researcher at the Carnegie Center for International Peace says: "The fact that regional governors are now elected makes them more independent from Moscow and more difficult to control." He also emphasizes that "the primary method of control now is by using economic leverage since administrative control is no longer possible. All of the conflicts related to corruption allegations are also an effort by Moscow to assert its power."

St. Petersburg is a "convenient target for such investigations because the city is well represented in Moscow and federal officials are familiar with the situation there," said Nikolai Petrov, another researcher at the Carnegie Center.