Freed Storchak Ready to Tackle Crisis

ReutersStorchak speaking to reporters after his release from the Lefortovo jail pending trial on Tuesday evening. "I'm going home. I'm in a good mood," he said.
Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak walked out of jail Tuesday evening and declared that he was ready to help the government tackle the financial crisis.

Storchak left Moscow's high-security Lefortovo jail about four hours after the Investigative Committee announced that he would be released pending trial on charges of attempted fraud and abuse of office.

The decision to release Storchak after more than 11 months in custody was made because he cannot influence the investigation as his case has been sent to court, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told reporters.

Storchak said he would ask Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin when he could return to his duties as the ministry's chief debt negotiator. He said he had been following the financial news closely from his cell so it would not take much time for him to catch up with his duties, Gazeta.ru reported.

Kudrin, who staunchly defended Storchak during the lengthy investigation, made no immediate statement about his deputy returning to work but praised his release as a "triumph of justice."

The Storchak case is widely seen as one of the most blatant manifestations of a power struggle between Kremlin clans that plagued the final months of Vladimir Putin's presidency. Kudrin came under strong pressure from the more hawkish clan believed to be behind Storchak's arrest during those months, and the pressure has increased in recent weeks because of the financial crisis, analysts said.

Storchak's release came as a complete surprise to him and his lawyers. "Even yesterday, no one notified us," lawyer Marina Nikolskaya told RIA-Novosti. "It was completely unexpected by us."

Storchak thanked the Investigative Committee for making "such an unexpected" decision to release him, Interfax reported.

"I'm going home. I'm in a good mood," he said, talking with reporters outside Lefortovo.

Also released Tuesday was Sodexim bank head Viktor Zakharov on condition that he not leave Moscow. Interregional Investment Bank president Vadim Volkov was left in custody. Together with Storchak, they are accused of attempting to defraud the state of $43.4 million in a scheme involving Russia's decision to write off Algerian debt.

A fourth suspect, Interregional Investment Bank general director Igor Kruglyakov, was released for medical reasons in August.

The charges against Storchak and the bankers still stand and, if convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison.

Markin said Storchak and the bankers would need to come to the Investigative Committee's office to read their case files before the trial begins. The case consists of 76 volumes, he said.

The investigation into Storchak was officially completed Oct. 9. Another of his lawyers, Andrei Romashov, has described the case against his client as poor, saying that the final charges do not even specify a figure for the amount purportedly stolen.

Storchak was arrested on Nov. 15, 2007. Kudrin has kept him at his post throughout the investigation.

Storchak's release suggests that Kudrin has solidified his position within the government, and further attempts to undermine him through the legal onslaught would be counterproductive for his opponents, said Alexei Mukhin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Information.

Responding to speculation earlier this month that Kudrin faced dismissal, Prime Minister Putin said he would not fire Kudrin and voiced support for the economic bloc that Kudrin belongs to in the Cabinet.

Storchak's release also indicates that the Kremlin clans are trying to reach a compromise, Mukhin said.

Editor's note: This article contains a correction from the print version. Interregional Investment Bank president Vadim Volkov was not released Tuesday but left in custody.