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Lawmakers Start Probe of 2 Yeltsin Aides : Russia: The move could lead to another showdown between the reformist president and conservative Parliament, politicians on both sides say.

July 24, 1993|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — As President Boris N. Yeltsin tried to relax at a far-off summer dacha , his political foes in Moscow turned up the heat Friday with an anti-corruption probe of two top aides closely identified with his free-market reforms.

The moves by lawmakers and Russia's chief prosecutor, along with new attacks on the reforms themselves, raised political fevers in this muggy capital to their highest level since voters gave the president a vote of confidence in a referendum three months ago.

Politicians on both sides said the attacks could lead soon to another showdown between Yeltsin and the powerful Parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies, with the fate of his Cabinet on the line.

Russia's smaller standing legislature, the Supreme Soviet, voted 158 to 10 Friday, with no debate, to open a criminal case against First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir F. Shumeiko. He is accused of embezzling $14.5 million in public funds set aside for an allegedly unfulfilled contract to import baby food from Switzerland.

The vote came a day after investigators seized documents during a four-hour search of the offices of Mikhail N. Poltoranin, the chief of Yeltsin's Federal Information Center. They were seeking evidence that Poltoranin took personal control of a former Soviet cultural center in Berlin and rented out office space to foreign companies.

Both aides denied wrongdoing and said the accusations had been discredited months ago. Shumeiko contends that the $14.5 million was to buy an entire baby food factory and that all the equipment has arrived. Poltoranin says the Berlin "Friendship House" was and remains in the hands of former KGB agents.

The two cases stem from allegations by Alexander V. Rutskoi, Yeltsin's vice president and most prominent critic, who announced just before the April 25 referendum that he possessed 11 suitcases full of evidence of high-level crimes. The charges made little impact on voters, who endorsed Yeltsin's leadership and his efforts to dismantle Russia's centralized economy.

Friday's Supreme Soviet vote cleared the way for a criminal investigation of Shumeiko by stripping him of the parliamentary immunity that he had at the time of the alleged embezzlement.

"In a political sense, we are firmly pronouncing today that there are no untouchable figures at the top," said Mikhail G. Astafiev, a leader of the legislature's conservative Russian Unity bloc.

Yeltsin's supporters were alarmed.

"The leaders of Parliament and the vice president are trying to regain the initiative they lost after the referendum," said presidential chief of staff Sergei A. Filatov. "To do this, they need to compromise the president's inner circle, no matter how."

Leaders of the Democratic Russia Movement sent a cable to Yeltsin at his vacation retreat near Novgorod, 300 miles northwest of here, urging him to come home at once "to prevent irreversible developments."

Yeltsin's press service later announced that the president was aware of events in Moscow and "intends to do everything possible" to keep the legislature from "seizing power."

After narrowly failing to impeach Yeltsin last March, the Soviet-era lawmakers were discredited in the referendum. They lay low while Yeltsin used the early summer to organize his own constitutional assembly and push through a proposed new constitution to enhance presidential powers.

But the constitution now faces a slow, uncertain process of approval by the leaders of Russia's regions, who want more power from Moscow, and suddenly the president is on the defensive again.

Since Yeltsin left for his vacation July 16, the Supreme Soviet has been on a roll. Wednesday the lawmakers voted to strip his privatization agency of its power to continue auctioning off thousands of state-owned companies.

Then they approved their own little privatization scheme, giving themselves power to take personal possession of the state-owned Moscow apartments that they were supposed to vacate as their terms expire in 1995.

Before adjourning Friday for a monthlong holiday, lawmakers demanded the resignation of Yeltsin's interior minister and the mayor of Moscow for sending troops to confront violent Communist May Day marchers. They also wrecked the government's 1993 budget by raising the deficit from 10% of the gross national product to 25%.

Moscow Bureau reporter Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this article.

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