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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mavrodi: No Ballot Box Hit

What does Sergei Mavrodi, the get-rich-quick guru and president of the notorious investment fund MMM, have in common with extreme nationalist Alexander Fyodorov and flamboyant entrepreneur Konstantin Borovoi? They are all vying for the heart of Khimki with lavish or outlandish promises.


A stretch of high-rises, smokestacks and no-frills Soviet storefronts on Moscow's northwestern edge, Khimki is a suburb much like any other, except for one key thing: a vacant seat in the State Duma.


The region grabbed headlines in April when its Duma deputy, Andrei Aidzerdis, was shot dead outside his Khimki apartment house, allegedly by the mafia. Now a by-election being held Oct. 30 to replace him has attracted a parade of celebrity candidates, all promising prosperity for Khimki and the other towns of the 109th electoral district.


In a race which candidates and campaigners themselves have labeled a "circus," a "clown show" and a "spectacle," those running have made some spectacular promises and provocative claims.


Mavrodi promises to spend $10 million of his own money on local improvements -- beginning with new telephone lines for every family in Khimki. Borovoi says his business contacts will bring $1.5 billion in investments to the region. Fyodorov's leaflets blare: "Only he will stop the genocide of the Russian people."


Khimki can certainly use the attention. Dying arms factories have not paid workers in months. Bored young people are increasingly drawn to crime. Only 56 families out of every 100 have telephones.


But for a troubled small town suddenly cast into the national spotlight, wooed by the rich and famous and given the chance to cast its votes for a new course, Khimki these days is rather blase. "It doesn't matter to me who wins," said Igor Kovolyov, 48, a factory mechanic who said he might vote "if I'm not at the dacha that day."


"I don't trust any of them," said another Khimki resident, barely breaking his stride as he ducked out of the local bread shop into the swirling snow.


Mikhail Beketov, director of the press center of the Khimki administration, said he believes most of the candidates are running only because "they want a seat in the Duma," which does not require deputies to be residents of their districts.


"There are 12 candidates, and eight of them are from Moscow," he said. "They don't live here, they don't know this region, its problems, its people."


Beketov says it was he who suggested that Mavrodi promise new telephones, as well as a new youth center and $1 million in equipment for a hospital in neighboring Skhodnya. The only money that ever showed up was 4 million rubles (about $1,330) which Mavrodi's aides brought to the hospital only after repeatedly standing up doctors who had planned a ceremonial greeting.


Beketov now calls the pledges about as reliable as the financier's promise of sky-high returns to millions of MMM shareholders. Mavrodi was arrested and accused of running a pyramid scheme after the fund collapsed, wiping out investors' savings.


After a sojourn in jail, he is now out free, pending trial, on condition that he stay in Moscow -- which has kept him away from his would-be consituents in Khimki.


"Mavrodi is running because he needs immunity," said Beketov, referring to the ban on criminal investigation of legislators.


Voters, too, are skeptical. "Mavrodi is using the money he took from the investors and using it to buy votes in Khimki," said Viktor Petrov.


The other, less famous candidates are trying their best to keep up -- albeit in a more homely fashion.


For example, some voters interviewed favored Leonid Barashkov, a local businessman who passed out earnest flyers that listed his civic contributions -- creating a new bus route, funding a soccer team -- and offered three "Barashkov Family Recipes" using mushrooms.