MOSCOW, September 3 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti)
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- Investigators Suspect Opposition Deputy Gudkov of Unlawful Business Dealings
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The ruling United Russia party confirmed on Monday it was ready to vote to expel opposition lawmaker Gennady Gudkov from parliament over charges of illegal business activity, a move slammed as political revenge by the outspoken Kremlin critic.
“This is a clear political order from the Kremlin,” Gudkov told RIA Novosti on Monday. “The authorities are ready to do anything to hang onto power.”
Russia’s Prosecutor General asked lawmakers late last week to oust Gudkov from the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, so that it could bring charges against him over suspected fraudulent business dealings in Bulgaria. State Duma lawmakers are forbidden from direct involvement in commercial activity, but receive legal immunity while serving their terms. Gudkov said earlier this year he had suspended his business activities after entering parliament in 2001.
Gudkov and his son Dmitry, both State Duma lawmakers with the leftist A Just Russia party, have been leading figures in the unprecedented protests against President Vladimir Putin that erupted after last December’s disputed parliamentary poll. Nationwide anti-Kremlin demonstrations are due to continue later this month after a summer hiatus.
“If unlawful activities are confirmed, we will, of course, vote in favor,” Vyacheslav Timchenko, the deputy head of United Russia’s parliamentary faction, told journalists in Moscow on Monday.
He also said the party’s decision to vote to strip Gudkov, 56, of his parliamentary mandate and accompanying immunity from arrest would be based “exclusively” on respect for the law. The vote is expected to take place on September 12.
The elder Gudkov – like Putin, a former KGB officer – is the latest opposition figure to face problems since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in May.
Opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny could face up to ten years after investigators reopened old embezzlement charges against him in July. Former political activist Taisia Osipova was sentenced to eight years in prison last week on drug charges her supporters say were revenge for her refusal to testify against her husband, a leading member of the radical Other Russia opposition movement. And in perhaps the most visible case, three women from punk group Pussy Riot received two-year prison sentences each on August 17 for a protest against Orthodox Church support for Putin in Moscow’s largest cathedral.
“If things continue like this, there will be serious social unrest,” Gudkov warned. “I see no other outcome.”
Gudkov said earlier this summer that he had been forced to sell off "for almost nothing" his two-decade private security business after pressure from the authorities that he said was "revenge" for his support of the protest movement.
But an influential United Russia lawmaker told RIA that only those with “irreproachable reputations” had the right to criticize the authorities.
“Before criticizing, you need to be a role model with an irreproachable reputation, something that Gudkov obviously does not possess,” said Vyacheslav Lysakov, the head of the All-Russia People’s Movement, created by Putin last year to broaden United Russia’s electoral base.
The head of A Just Russia, Sergei Mironov, last week slammed the move against Gudkov as “political payback” and said that “several dozen lawmakers” are involved in business.
Despite serious setbacks at December’s polls, United Russia managed to hang onto a parliamentary majority and would not need votes from opposition lawmakers to force through Gudkov’s expulsion.
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