After 9 Years, Reiman Leaves Mixed Record

The appointment of Igor Shchyogolev, the Kremlin's polyglot protocol chief, to head the new hybrid Communications and Press Ministry brings an end to the tenure of one of the country's most controversial ministers, Leonid Reiman.

Reiman, who worked with Putin in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, emerged from obscurity to become the country's telecoms minister in November 1999 -- and dominated the sector for nearly a decade.

"If needed, you could always count on him to push necessary changes through other ministries and the State Duma," Valentin Makarov, president of Russoft, an association of Russian software developers, said Monday.

One such campaign was his relentless pushing for state telecoms holding Svyazinvest to be privatized.

"His was the lone voice prodding the government year after year to privatize Svyazinvest," said Anna Kurbatov, a telecoms analyst at UniCredit Aton. "It would be hard to take the privatization forward without him.

In the months before he stepped down as IT and communications minister, Reiman fought to have telecoms excluded from a list of industries that limit foreign participation in strategic sectors -- and ended up mostly getting his way.

Despite his achievements, Reiman has been dogged by allegations that he has secretly held stakes in telecoms companies. Reiman has consistently denied the allegations.

Last week, the Bermuda Supreme Court ruled to wind up IPOC -- an investment fund that a 2006 Zurich tribunal ruled belonged to Reiman. IPOC was at the center of a long-running dispute with Altimo, the telecoms arm of Alfa Group, over the ownership of a blocking stake in MegaFon, the country's third-biggest mobile operator.

Leonid Rozhetskin, a Russian-born U.S. businessman who IPOC accused of reneging on a deal to sell the MegaFon stake to the fund, mysteriously disappeared from his Latvian home in March.

News of Reiman's departure coincided with reports Monday that billionaire Alisher Usmanov had clinched a deal to buy IPOC's MegaFon stakes.

The new ministry merges telecoms duties with the job of regulating the media. Some analysts said this could leave a way for Reiman to come back into government to oversee the IT sector.

In a statement Monday, Reiman hailed the development of the telecoms and IT sector, and said the country should continue to focus on developing high-tech industries, the potential "catalyst for overall economic development."

Shchyogolev, 42, has no previous experience in the telecoms sector, yet he has the reputation of being a business-friendly Westernizer.

Born in Ukraine, Shchyogolev worked as an Itar-Tass correspondent from 1988 to 1998. He became a White House spokesman and adviser to Putin during his first stint as prime minister in 1999. He moved to head the Kremlin press office in 2000, and has headed the protocol department since late 2001.

Shchyogolev, who speaks German, French and English, graduated from a Moscow linguistics institute before studying in Leipzig, East Germany.