Storchak's Video Plea To Go Home Denied

A Moscow court denied bail Wednesday to Sergei Storchak, the deputy finance minister who has been held in pretrial detention on corruption charges since November.

The appeal, which took place in a small courtroom in the Moscow City Court in the northwest of the city, was packed with friends and relatives of the defendant. Storchak himself appeared by video link from a holding cell in Lefortovo Prison.

The judge ordered Storchak to remain in detention until July 9, upholding a decision in April to extend his pretrial detention while the preliminary investigation is completed. Prosecutors hope to compile their evidence by July.

Storchak, who was Russia's foreign debt negotiator and overseer of the $160 billion oil stabilization fund before his arrest, has been accused of attempting to embezzle $43 million from state budget funds. His arrest has been widely interpreted by analysts as an effort by sparring Kremlin cliques to put pressure on liberal Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin.

The prosecution argued Wednesday that Storchak's release from custody could jeopardize the case. "If released, Storchak could flee the investigation and the court and influence the outcome of the criminal case," the lead prosecutor said in court.

The defense dismissed concerns that Storchak would flee the country or put pressure on witnesses if granted bail as "fantasy."

They also complained that Storchak had been denied the right to attend the hearing in person, violating his constitutional rights to a proper defense.

Storchak's lawyers have criticized the prosecution's handling of the case, claiming that there has been no proper investigation of the charges while their client has languished in jail. The prosecution has rejected the claim, arguing that the case's sensitivity has complicated the investigation.

"The investigators are blindly pursuing their own line, without worrying about fabrications," Storchak said via video link.

The investigation appeared to stall recently when Dmitry Dovgy, the officer in charge of the case, was moved from his post after an inquiry found him to have broken rules on the disclosure of confidential information.

Storchak's lawyers criticized the decision after the hearing, saying investigators had yet to produce any evidence to implicate Storchak.

"Your job is to ask, ours [as lawyers] is to show," said Igor Pastukhov, one of Storchak's lawyers.

Kudrin and several State Duma deputies have called for Storchak's release from pretrial detention, saying he would not go into hiding and would cooperate fully with the investigation. Kudrin has said he would personally vouch for Storchak.