Feisty Deputy Could Lose Immunity

In a rare move, the Prosecutor General's Office has asked the State Duma to strip a deputy of his immunity in order to pursue a high-level corruption investigation.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that they suspect Vladimir Golovlyov -- deputy chairman of the budget committee and a renegade member of the liberal Union of the Right Forces, or SPS, faction -- of committing financial abuses as head of the state property committee in the Chelyabinsk region in the early 1990s.

Golovlyov denied any wrongdoing and said he was being persecuted for his attempts to form a liberal opposition party and his ties with self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who said earlier this year that he would give funding to the new splinter group.

Irina Sterlikova, a spokeswoman for the Chelyabinsk prosecutor's office, said Golovlyov was needed for questioning in a probe opened in 1996, the year after he entered the Duma for a first term.

"Questioning [Golovlyov] is necessary in order to ensure an objective and all-encompassing investigation," Sterlikova said by telephone from Chelyabinsk. "He is not charged with anything and we cannot say whether he will be."

But members of the Duma mandate committee, which oversees technical issues connected with Duma membership and heard a report by Deputy Prosecutor General Yury Biryukov on Tuesday, said prosecutors want to arrest Golovlyov and search his offices and home.

Committee member Sergei Popov of the liberal Yabloko faction said he "did not understand on what grounds the prosecutor's office wants to arrest [Golovlyov]," Interfax reported.

Golovlyov himself expressed incredulity. He said in televised remarks that he had not been informed of "what specifically he was suspected of."

Golovlyov was one of the few SPS faction members who refused to join the movement's party at its founding congress this spring, accusing SPS of a "servile" attitude toward the Kremlin. Together with prominent deputy and human rights activist Sergei Yushenkov, he decided to form a separate party, Liberal Russia. The two met with Berezovsky earlier this year to discuss funding.

"We knew what we were getting into when we decided to form a new party," Interfax quoted Golovlyov as saying Tuesday. He warned that "the time is coming when every person who dares to give an unofficial opinion will be put under severe pressure."

The prosecutor's demand could be considered by the Duma on Thursday, TV6 reported. But Golovlyov is unlikely to get much support from SPS.

Faction leader Irina Khakamada said that SPS, which has lobbied against legislative immunity, would not stand up for Golovlyov. She said his political activity "contradicts" that of SPS and "was mainly aimed at splitting the party," Interfax quoted her as saying.

Some SPS officials, however, defended their colleague. The faction's first deputy chairman Viktor Pokhmelkin called the prosecutor's request "a political provocation aimed at discrediting people who dare call themselves an opposition to the ruling regime."

Golovlyov's most vehement defender turned out to be First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska of the pro-Kremlin Unity party. Sliska said she opposed stripping him of immunity, warning that such methods could work only if "deputies in Russia were treated like [those] in the civilized world," Interfax reported.