Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 211

In a sign that a purge of Yeltsin-era officials may be continuing and even accelerating, Sergei Stepashin, head of the Audit Chamber, which is tasked to ensure the proper use of federal money, yesterday accused the government, headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, of having ignored the findings of various investigations into the alleged misuse of budget funds, including the discovery of 23.2 billion rubles (US$776 million) worth of misappropriations during the first ten months of the year alone. In a speech to the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, Stepashin said that the Audit Chamber had made thirty-six representations of its findings to the government but had received responses to only three of them. Stepashin, who is himself a former prime minister, said he complained to Kasyanov about the government’s unresponsiveness in May but that this, too, was ignored, which forced him to inform President Vladimir Putin about the situation. Stepashin said he was “confused” about the government’s “indifferent attitude” toward the problem.

Last month, Nikolai Aksenenko, head of Russia’s Railways Ministry (MPS), went on an unscheduled vacation after being questioned by the Prosecutor General’s Office and accused of abusing his office. The charges grew out of an Audit Chamber investigation that found evidence of large-scale misappropriations within the Railways Ministry. Stepashin said in his speech yesterday that the probe into the ministry was “long overdue” and that in launching it, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov was simply doing what the government itself should have done much earlier. “The bringing of criminal cases is not in itself a goal for us,” Stepashin said of the Audit Chamber, which itself does not have the power to prosecute criminal cases. “But the tandem of the agency that I head together with the law enforcement organs is exactly what the government needs to bring order to the economic and financial spheres. And we will continue our work in this direction” (Kommersant, Moscow Times, November 15).

Stepashin dismissed as “absolutely groundless” speculation that the recent increased activity of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Audit Chamber in investigating and prosecuting officials like Aksenenko is part of an overall purge of Yeltsin-era officials. Yet Stepashin’s criticism of Kasyanov, who in the past has been the subject of various media exposes involving financial machinations involving foreign debt, is likely to increase the speculation about a purge, given that the prime minister, like the MPS chief, has long been regarded as a key member of the “Family,” the inner circle of former President Boris Yeltsin. It should be noted that rumors of Kasyanov’s imminent political demise have been circulating for well over a year. Still another alleged member of the “Family,” Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, went on vacation after a probe was launched into his ministry (senior government officials cannot legally be fired while they are on vacation or in the hospital). The Emergency Situations Ministry, headed by another powerful Yeltsin-era official, Sergei Shoigu, is reportedly also being probed (see the Monitor, November 1). The State Fisheries Committee and the State Customs Committee are reportedly under investigation. Stepashin said yesterday that the Audit Chamber was also closely scrutinizing the Kremlin Property Department, the State Road Fund, the Natural Resources Ministry and various regional budgets (Moscow Times, November 15).

In addition to the Audit Chamber, the Kremlin now has an additional tool at its disposal to root out corruption and/or remove political enemies–the Committee for Financial Monitoring (KFM), an anti-moneylaundering agency under the auspices of the Finance Ministry, which Putin recently decreed into existence andis headed by one of his long-time associates (see the Monitor, October 15, November 7).

Meanwhile, the noose around Aksenenko’s political neck seems to be tightening. The Prosecutor General’s Office has reportedly charged Mikhail Ivankov–the first deputy railways minister who has been filling in as acting MPS chief while Aksenenko is on “leave”–with abuse of office and carried out a search of his office, seizing documents in the process. Interestingly, Ivankov’s name apparently did not figure in the Audit Chamber probe of the Railways Ministry that originally sparked the Prosecutor General’s own investigation of the ministry and the charges against Aksenenko (, November 15). Aksenenko, meanwhile, is set to return to work on December 7, at which time he could be legally removed as railways minister (Moscow Times, November 15).