FSB Heads Investigation Of Ministerial Bombing

The Federal Security Service, an offshoot of the former Soviet KGB, Tuesday took over investigation of the bombing of a luxury car used by a deputy finance minister.

The car, a SAAB 9000 owned by the government, was used by First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, 30, a proteg? of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The car was parked only meters away from the entrance to the ministry in downtown Moscow when the blast occurred at 7:05 p.m. Monday.

Police said the explosion, equal to between 100 and 300 grams of TNT, shattered two windows in the building, splintered the car's windshield and damaged its front right door. No one was injured.

"I heard it. We were meeting when it went off right under our windows. We were on the 5th floor. The first impression was that if there were a 6th floor, it might have crumbled and fallen apart. But since there are only five floors, and it couldn't fall, we decided that something else had happened," Finance Minister Alexander Livshits said in describing the accident at a press conference Tuesday.

Livshits said he was not shocked by the incident but added: "You can't help remembering scenes from older Westerns. Remember, they had this sign in saloons, 'Don't shoot the piano player, he's trying his best.' Perhaps, we should put up similar signs -- 'Don't touch the financier, he is giving as much as he has'."

According to Russian law, investigations of attacks against state or government officials are handled by the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich confirmed Tuesday his agency had taken over the case from the police and launched an investigation based on the Article 227 of the new Russian Criminal Code -- terrorist acts against state or public figures. The maximum punishment under the article is death.

Vavilov joined the Finance Ministry as a deputy minister in 1992 under then Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar. He is generally perceived at home and abroad as one of Russia's top finance professionals. He has won credit for planning and carrying out much of the work for Russia's successful Eurobond placement last year.

A senior Moscow banker said Vavilov also typically oversaw various federal spending programs and the flow of state money through commercial banks, including last year's controversial program for supplying fuel and food to Russia's north, worth some 5 trillion rubles ($888 billion).

The program, which envisaged fuel and food shipments on behalf of commercial banks under government guarantees, came under serious fire for allegedly allowing the participating banks to syphon off the state money. Food deliveries were nearly late for the end of the navigation season and were also of poor quality, Russian media reported.

Last August, when the new Russian government was formed upon Yeltsin's presidential-election win, head of the State Duma committee Mikhail Zadornov was, among other candidates, offered the post of Finance Minister. However, he refused the vacancy after his demand to remove two of the most "odious" figures from the ministry, one reportedly Vavilov, was not met.

Another government official, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin came under an attack last March, when his apartment was peppered with bullets. Dubinin was on a trip at the time, but his family, inside, escaped without injury.