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Putin suggests levy on past privatisation deals

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday suggested that all tycoons who made fortunes in the controversial privatisation deals of the 1990s pay a one-off fee to the state.

Putin’s proposal came as the Russian strongman lobbies populist support for his return to the Kremlin in March 4 presidential polls.

“Society has to accept the manner in which we close the chapter on the problem of this unfair, to say the least, privatisation,” Putin told members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

“This needs to be either a one-time contribution, or something else. We all have to think it over,” he told the industrial lobby.

Russia’s oligarchs are despised by many voters since making fortunes in tightly-arranged selloffs of Soviet-era mines and energy deposits that made billionaires out of a select group of Kremlin insiders.

Putin made an uneasy truce with the tycoons after winning the presidency for the first time in 2000 and then promising not to investigate their past dealings if they followed new rules set by the state.

He then moved to re-nationalise some of their holdings and eventually created a top state oil company out of assets owned by Yukos following the imprisonment of its chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Putin is facing four other candidates in the election, including precious metals magnate and New Jersey Nets basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

The idea of a flat payment has never before been raised by Putin, and he provided no further details except to say that he was waiting for recommendations from “experts”.

The former KGB chief is widely expected to return to the Kremlin after serving two terms as president between 2000 and 2008 and then becoming premier under his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev.