Bastrykin Fires Shot at Finance Ministry Again

The Investigative Committee fired another salvo at the Finance Ministry on Thursday, ratcheting up claims that its officials had embezzled $18 million.

"An investigation into the embezzlement of $18 million has implicated the best financial and economic specialists -- including a former and a current deputy finance minister," Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin said at a meeting.

He appeared to be referring to the investigation into Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak, who spent almost a year in custody before being released last October pending trial. Storchak, the ministry's chief foreign debt negotiator, and former Deputy Finance Minister Vadim Volkov have been charged with embezzlement in an accord to settle Russia's debt to Algeria.

Volkov remains in custody. Storchak, whom Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin openly supported during the investigation, went on leave after being freed.

Bastrykin said the investigation into Storchak and Volkov is "nearing completion, and the case will be soon sent to court."

The Finance Ministry declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Storchak's case, which has rocked Russia's political circles, is widely seen as a manifestation of a government power struggle between the siloviki -- a clan of former and active security services officials -- and a liberal-leaning wing in the Russian establishment.