Court Rules Deputy Can Lose Immunity

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that an investigation could be opened into the activities of State Duma Deputy Valery Draganov on suspicion of negligence and abuse of office as head of the State Customs Committee in the late 1990s.

The ruling clears the way for the Prosecutor General's Office to send a request to the State Duma to strip the United Russia deputy of his parliamentary immunity. The Duma must then vote on whether to grant the request.

The Investigative Committee alleges that Draganov abused his authority by ordering customs payments to be placed in accounts at a bank not officially authorized by the government to perform such operations.

If charged and convicted, Draganov faces up to 10 years in prison.

"It's obvious to me that I didn't break the law and acted exclusively in the state's interests, within my responsibilities and in keeping with the extremely difficult situation that arose after the default of 1998," Draganov said Tuesday in comments forwarded by his spokeswoman.

The Supreme Court already ruled in October that investigators had enough evidence to open a case against Draganov, but his lawyers appealed.

Subsequent appeals are not allowed, said Draganov's lawyer, Yury Gervis, Interfax reported.

Spokesmen for the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General's Office were unable to confirm Tuesday when the request to lift Draganov's immunity would go to the State Duma.

The request would likely be examined first by the Duma's Credentials and Ethics Commission, after which it will be sent to the State Duma Council, made up of deputies holding official positions in the legislature, said Vladimir Aseyev, first deputy chairman of the parliament's Rules Committee, Itar-Tass reported.

A number of high-profile United Russia deputies defended Draganov on Tuesday.

Speaker Boris Gryzlov told journalists that Draganov made a "responsible decision," while "many members of the executive branch were hiding their heads in the sand," Interfax reported.

Legislation Committee head Pavel Krashenninikov said Draganov "headed the Customs Committee in very difficult times and, I think, didn't do his job badly," the news agency said.

Draganov began working in the customs service in the 1970s and served as chief of the State Customs Committee from 1998 to 1999. He was removed from the post by then-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in March 1999.

Draganov, who has served as a State Duma deputy since 1999, is currently the first deputy chairman of the Industry Committee.