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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Evidence Weak on Rutskoi: Prosecutor

There is not enough evidence against Alexander Rutskoi to press criminal charges, according to the man hand-picked by President Boris Yeltsin's anti-corruption commission to pursue the case against the Russian vice president.

After reviewing 1, 000 pages of documents and interrogating Rutskoi for four hours Monday, Moscow Public Prosecutor Gennady Ponomaryov told The Moscow Tunes: "We do not see a crime".

Ponomaryov was chosen to pursue the corruption charges against Rutskoi after Russia's public prosecutor, Valentin Stepankov, was pulled off the case last week.

Yeltsin's anti-corruption commission removed Stepankov, the country's chief investigator, after implicating him in a shadowy alleged murder plot and implying that he could not remain impartial.

Ponomaryov's conclusions are likely to prove embarrassing for the Yeltsin commission, which accused Rutskoi on live television of embezzling $20 million in state funds and placing them in a Swiss bank account. The commission then put the Moscow prosecutor in charge of the case, handing him the documents on which its allegations were based.

In an interview late Monday, Ponomaryov said he did not see a basis for lodging criminal charges against either Rutskoi or Stepankov, both of whom are involved in pressing corruption charges against some of Yeltsin's closest ministers and advisers.

"According to the documents that we have and the explanation we have received, we do not see a crime", Ponomaryov said.

Rutskoi has roundly denied having anything to do with the alleged illegal Swiss bank account, the latest element in Russia's snowballing and sharply politicized corruption scandal.

The case against him was lodged after the rebellious vice president declared that he had 11 suitcases of evidence against top Yeltsin aides including First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko. Rutskoi has not presented the evidence.

Stepankov, whose office has supported Rutsko's charges against Yeltsin's men, was implicated in an alleged plot to murder Andrei Makarov, a leading member of Yeltsin's anti-corruption panel.

The prosecutor has acknowledged having a conversation with a Russian _migr_, Dmitry Yakubovsky, in which the two men spoke of getting 'treatment" for Makarov. But he denied that the exchange represented a murder plot, as the president's investigators alleged, and Monday he received backing from Ponomaryov.

"From the taped conversation between the public prosecutor and Yakubovsky, fragments of which have been published, we also do not see a basis for immediately opening a criminal case", said Ponomaryov, who has served as Moscow's top prosecutor for the past four years.

Ponomaryov expects to meet soon with Stepankov to discuss the allegations against him. Officials say that this case is especially delicate, not only because Stepankov is Ponomaryov's superior, but also because Yakubovsky worked in the Moscow prosecutor's office for several years in the late 1980s.

Yakubovsky has been invited to come from his home in Canada to meet with investigators, but, as with other witnesses in the preliminary investigations, his appearance would be entirely voluntary, Ponomaryov said.

In a television interview last Friday, Rutskoi said that only the Russian public prosecutor, not the city prosecutor, should review a case involving "a senior official of the state". Nonetheless, he agreed to comply with Ponomaryov's request for an interview.

"I have an interest in having all this sorted out. and I have no doubts that we will sort it out", Rutskoi said in the television broadcast, referring to charges he called "lies and deceptions".

Ponomaryov, 47, who once worked as an instructor for the Communist Party, criticized both Yeltsin and his opponents for publicly tarring officials before prosecutors have formally pressed charges.

"I don't want to compare this with McCarthyism, but sometimes names and addresses are mentioned, so they are playing the role of hunting dogs, unfortunately", he said. "You can't use a high pulpit to accuse specific people of corruption, or even cast suspicions on them, or cast doubts on their honesty before the mass media".

"If there is information, it should be given to the public prosecutor", Ponomaryov continued. "Then when there is a decision, whether it be an accusation of guilt as a minimum, or the transfer of the matter to court, then you can go to any public forum".

Even though they do not have enough information to press criminal charges at present, a team of four prosecutors will continue to investigate the case for several more weeks, Ponomaryov said.

The charges appear unlikely ever to reach a court of law, but the ongoing scrutiny appears to be taking a physical toll on the vice president.