Parliament Strips SPS's Golovlyov of His Immunity

At the urging of both prosecutors and the presidential administration, the State Duma partially stripped a liberal lawmaker of his legislative immunity Thursday, stopping short of allowing prosecutors to arrest him.

Vladimir Golovlyov, a renegade member of the Union of Right Forces faction, or SPS, is suspected of financial abuses while serving in the Chelyabinsk region government in the early 1990s. Golovlyov said Thursday that he would challenge the Duma's decision, which he claims was made in breach of existing legislation and under political pressure.

Earlier this week, the Prosecutor General's Office asked the Duma to lift Golovlyov's immunity and allow investigators to question him in an investigation on financial abuses allegedly committed by the Chelyabinsk state property committee. The investigation was opened in 1996 by the Chelyabinsk prosecutor's office.

The request was initially denied Wednesday, when the Duma fell 12 votes short of stripping Golovlyov of immunity, but was put on the agenda again Thursday without prosecutors filing a new demand, as required by procedural norms. The decision sailed through with a vote of 387-2.

Some of the deputies warned Thursday that this amounted to a serious breach of procedure that could lead to annulment of the Duma's decision by a court. "I don't understand how the prosecutor's office will implement this decision ... since it goes against both the Constitution and the law on the status of deputies," Interfax quoted Communist Deputy Sergei Reshulsky as saying.

But the presidential representative to the Duma, Alexander Kotenkov, insisted that the procedure for stripping a deputy of immunity at the request of prosecutors was not clearly defined, Interfax reported.

Addressing the Duma mandate committee Tuesday, Deputy Prosecutor General Yury Biryukov said his agency also wanted to order searches of Golovlyov's office and home and have him detained. But the deputies refused to allow prosecutors to arrest their colleague.

Golovlyov called the Duma's decision his "victory" Thursday. "Now everybody got the chance to see this was essentially a political decision," he said.

Golovlyov says the attempt to strip him of immunity was punishment for his political activity, namely the new Liberal Russia party he founded together with another liberal deputy and a human rights activist, Sergei Yushenkov. "Liberal Russia is the only political party that openly stated its opposition [to the Kremlin]," he said after the vote.

The new movement has not yet gained prominence on the political scene, although Golovlyov said it had already gathered about 20,000 members. Earlier this year, he and Yushenkov approached Boris Berezovsky -- a former Kremlin insider now living in self-imposed exile -- to discuss funding for the party.

Prosecutors believe Golovlyov pocketed funds earned through privatization of state property in Chelyabinsk in the early 1990s and used them, in part, to build houses in the Moscow region, Interfax cited documents presented to the Duma as saying.