Russian criminal probe implicates wife of former mayor

16th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia has launched a criminal probe into illegal land purchases in Moscow under sacked mayor Yury Luzhkov and implicating his wife's construction firm, officials said Tuesday.

Luzhkov, who headed the Russian capital for 18 years, was fired by President Dmitry Medvedev in September after a smear campaign on state television which included targeting the provenance of his wife Yelena Baturina's spectacular fortune.

Investigators have opened a case "over fraud of an especially large magnitude during illegally granting ownership rights of 16 hectares (40 acres) in western Moscow," said the investigative committee of prosecutors.

The land belonged to the federal government and was set aside for construction of diplomatic mission headquarters for several foreign states.

However a Moscow government decree unlawfully handed the rights to Matveyevskoye company, the committee said in a statement.

The land were subsequently sold to Inteko, the construction company headed by Baturina, though the statement did not mention any names.

Inteko denied allegations that the ownership is illegal, saying it bought the land in 2003 on legal terms.

Both Luzhkov and Baturina have fought corruption allegations in court and had a long history of winning lawsuits up until Luzhkov's ouster.

Last month the odds began to turn against the couple with a court rejecting Baturina's lawsuit against NTV channel for a muckraking special aired shortly before Luzhkov's departure.

A court has even ruled in favour of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who authored a pamphlet alleging Luzhkov's government unlawfully favoured Baturina's business, which led Baturina to file a defamation suit.

Perhaps sensing the possible outcomes of his swift fall from favour, Luzhkov and Baturina have relocated their children to Britain, with the former mayor telling the Sunday Telegraph that he worries for their safety and senses "all-consuming hatred" in Russia.

Conviction for large scale fraud can lead to a sentence of up to 10 years in prison in Russia.

© 2010 AFP

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