General Aleksandr Lebed, governor of Krasnoyarsk and a likely presidential contender, has had little but grief from the Moscow establishment since he took office last year. But last week federal authorities gave Lebed a boost in his struggle with Anatoly Bykov, the local aluminum tycoon who is a major creditor of the region’s coal company, Krasugol. Like a mustachioed landlord in a melodrama, Bykov aims to foreclose, taking control of Krasugol in payment of its debt. Lebed fears that Bykov would lay off workers and stiff the government on taxes–a double blow to Lebed’s political fortunes.

The regional government has an equity stake in Krasugol, but not a controlling interest. To keep Krasugol out of Bykov’s hands, Lebed needs help from the federal government, which holds a large bloc of shares. That help came when federal authorities agreed to cooperate with the region in administering its shares. More importantly, federal prosecutors ordered Bykov to present himself for questioning on charges of “laundering illegally obtained money.” Bykov, traveling in the United States, predictably insisted the charges are politically inspired and said he would return to deal with them.