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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scathing attack welcomes shadowy Mayor Luzhkov

For newly-appointed Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, there was no honeymoon period.

Luzhkov came under fire in parliament on Thursday - just three days after replacing Gavriil Popov - following a press report that accused him of embezzlement and influence peddling, giving rise to speculation that Luzhkov's career as mayor may be a short one.

Luzhkov spokesman Vladimir Perekrest said Thursday that the mayor was still studying the news report, which appeared in Literaturnaya Gazeta, and was unable to comment further.

"We will continue to carry out our reform plan", Luzhkov said in a Kuranty article on Thursday. "I plan to work the whole five years".

While charges of corruption in the city government have been popular rallying cries at demonstrations and city council sessions, the accusations levelled at Luzhkov are the most serious to appear in the press.

Gleb Yakunin and Lev Ponamaryov, deputies of the Russian parliament, asked Procurator General Yevgeny Stepankov to investigate allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power by Luzhkov, allegedly committed during his three years as a high-ranking city official.

The article paints a portrait of a shadowy Luzhkov who, involved in several large-scale embezzlement schemes while in charge of the distribution of produce in Moscow from 1987 to 1991, helped push former Mayor Gavriil Popov out of power. Quoting unspecified documents and unnamed sources, the article goes so far as to assert that Luzhkov is the godfather of some kind of a nomenklatura mafia.

The image of Luzhkov presented in the article contrasts with the commonly accepted view of a pragmatic, competent reformer with a strong management background. Moskovskaya Pravda said Luzhkov's pragmatism "stands in striking contrast to the professional character" of Popov, because Luzhkov's administrative experience is far greater than Popov's. Added Alexander Ioffe of the Moscow Union of Cooperators: "Luzhkov is completely committed to the market economy, and no one knows Moscow and the capital administration as well as he does".

But if Luzhkov's two years of experience as Popov's chief administrator made him the likely candidate for mayor, then there is a negative side as well. A year after democrats swept to victory in the first mayoral and presidential elections, Luzhkov has inherited a city full of troubles, including a population grumbling over milk and bread price hikes and a city council intent on reclaiming executive power in the city.

In this hostile context, Popov was forced on four occasions to ask President Boris Yeltsin for increased powers to manage his free-market reform program. His political opponents, meanwhile, watched with growing mistrust as Popov and Luzhkov gained greater control over the city's property, all on the strength of presidential decrees, rather than Russian law.

The article said Luzhkov had skimmed up to 100 million rubles off the state budget to private retailers in 1989 and 1990. It also demanded Luzhkov answer for 230 tons of canned meat food aid from West Berlin intended for Moscow that disappeared in 1991. The article went on to say Luzhkov and others had used Popov as a cover for their criminal activities.

"They have divided spheres of influence in Moscow between themselves", it said, "and have sold to each other the best parts of the city and have taken so much that the smoke screen of democracy and the Augutst victory, with which they covered their underground activities, became an unnecessary bother".

In somewhat better documented charges, the article accused Luzhkov of breaking Russian law forbidding officials from involvement in personal business activities, saying that Luzhkov had been a founder and participant in several joint ventures for personal profit.

Both Popov and Luzhkov participated in the founding - and possibly the running - of a number of joint ventures and enterprises, the most notable being the Communal Property Office of the Oktyabrsky regional council. Popov and Luzhkov founded the office in 1990 as a distributor of land development rights for the prime real estate of central Moscow. As the Russian side of joint ventures involving huge urban renovation projects, the office became a point of controversy between the mayor's office and the city council. In April of this year, the city prosecutor issued a statement to the effect that Popov and Luzhkov had overstepped their authority by founding the office. Both men ignored the statement.

By April, Luzhkov had distanced himself from the Communal Property Office, even denying he had ever signed the founding document and issuing two orders to have it closed down. Popov, meanwhile, gave an interview to Stolitsa magazine in which he asserted that officials should be allowed to do business, which brought the attention and wrath of the city council.