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Deputy Ministers Allies Call for His Release

Published: November 23, 2007 (Issue # 1326)



  • Storchak, seen here in February, is the governments top foreign debt official.
    Photo: Reuters

MOSCOW Lawyers and colleagues of Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak mounted a fierce defense of the imprisoned official Wednesday, calling for his immediate release as he faces charges of attempted embezzlement.

Storchaks court-appointed lawyer appealed his arrest, and a date for the hearing is expected by the end of the week, Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova said.

Storchaks own lawyer, Igor Pastukhov, said the court would hear the case Friday. Until then, hes sitting in Lefortovo prison, he said. Storchak has been held in the Soviet-era jail since his detention last Thursday.

The Prosecutor Generals Investigative Committee has said it will bring charges against Storchak and two businessmen by next week on suspicion of attempting to embezzle $43.4 million from the state budget.

Storchak oversaw all debt negotiations between Russia and foreign states, as well as the $148 billion oil stabilization fund, in his role as deputy to Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.

Federal Security Service officers detained Storchak as Kudrin was flying to an international conference in South Africa. Kudrin, who has called his deputys arrest incomprehensible, returned to Moscow as planned Tuesday, a ministry spokeswoman said.

State Duma Deputy Alexander Lebedev, a billionaire shareholder in Aeroflot, said Wednesday that he had offered the court his personal guarantee that Storchak would not flee the country or tamper with evidence if released while awaiting trial.

He is a worthy enough man not to stay in detention during the investigation, Lebedev said, Interfax reported.

Storchaks arrest, the most high profile of a serving state official during President Vladimir Putins time in office, came two weeks ahead of the Dec. 2 State Duma elections. The presidential vote will follow in March.

Above all, [the arrest] is linked to the need to fight corruption, said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst. Everyone in government is nervous about what will happen to them after the elections, he added.

Neither Putin nor Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov has commented publicly on the arrest. Some analysts have seen the move against Storchak as a sign of continuing power struggles within the Kremlin as the elections draw near.

The accusations are believed to stem from the repayment of Soviet-era debt from Algeria, which were organized through commercial contracts with little-known firm Sodexim.

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