VVTs Officials Lash Out at City Owners

Administrators of the All-Russia Exhibition Center, or VVTs, threw themselves Friday into a battle for control of the grounds, which has pitted the Moscow city government against the State Property Committee.

Vladimir Mazurkov, deputy head of the center -- formerly the Exhibition of Economic Achievements of the U.S.S.R., or VDNKh -- told a press conference his team was caught in a cross-fire between the two competing governments and suffering badly at the hands of the city's tax man.

The center, he said, should remain in the hands of the Russian government.

Currently, the federal government owns 70 percent of VVTs, and the city the remaining 30 percent. At a meeting between representatives of federal and Moscow governments and other interested parties Thursday, the majority agreed not to change the ownership structure, Mazurkov said.

"The view was that VVTs should be an instrument of both the state and the city of Moscow, and that doesn't require any reorganization of the ownership of VVTs," Mazurkov said.

A number of plans have been floated for the site, including a Disneyland-style theme park. Russian papers reported earlier this year that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was eyeing VVTs as the site for his proposed Moscow stock exchange.

Mazurkov reiterated allegations he made earlier this month in the Kommersant Daily newspaper that the city government, headed by Luzhkov, had sponsored a press campaign damning the site as an eyesore and a center of crime.

Officials at the city government's press office could not be reached for comment Friday evening, but Mazurkov said the crime rate at VVTs is four times lower than in Moscow as a whole.

Luzhkov has already made life hard for the exhibition ground's management by imposing sky-high land rents, Mazurkov said, noting that earlier this year the Moscow City Land Committee revised its annual bill upwards from 1.8 billion to 40 billion rubles ($7 million) in the course of two months.

"If we paid that rent we would have to stop paying taxes or stop paying wages," said Arkady Kazdim, head of the economics department at VVTs. He said VVTs paid 48 billion rubles in taxes in 1996.

The only other alternative would be for VVTs to pass on the rent hike to small traders, whose rental payments provide 60 percent of revenue.

"A big rent hike would force us to move out, and no one else could afford to take our place," said Vladimir Aliluyev, head of Alpasi, a trading company at VVTs.