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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MMM's Mavrodi Voted Into Duma

Sergei Mavrodi won a seat in the State Duma in a suburban Moscow by-election Monday just three weeks after he was released from jail on charges involving the crash of his MMM pyramid scheme, wiping out the savings of millions of investors.

Election officials Monday night declared Mavrodi the winner in the 12-way race Sunday in the Mytishchinsky region to replace Duma deputy Andrei Aidzerdzis, who was gunned down outside his apartment building in April.

Mavrodi took nearly 27 percent of the vote, far ahead of his nearest rivals, conservative local administrator Alexander Zharov and prominent businessman Konstantin Borovoi, who each garnered about 14 percent in a preliminary ballot count, local election commissioner Yury Zhigulin told Itar-Tass.

The turnout was low, reaching only 30 percent, just rescuing the polls from being invalid.

Despite Mavrodi's high-profile campaign based on television and the use of surrogates, he did not campaign personally because the terms of his jail release forbid him from leaving the Moscow city limits. That ruled out campaigning in the 109th electoral district on Moscow's northwestern edge.

Since MMM collapsed in July, swallowing the savings of an estimated 5 million to 10 million investors, the country has been divided between critics who call Mavrodi a charlatan and fans who believe he is being persecuted for helping average Russians get rich. Many supporters are investors who blame the government for their losses and cling to the hope that Mavrodi will resurrect the company and bail them out.

Mavrodi, who faces charges of massive tax evasion linked to the MMM empire, has made no bones about his main reason for running for office: Deputies cannot be arrested or investigated without Duma approval.

However, Moscow Public Prosecutor Gennady Ponomaryov said that the tax-evasion charges still stand because legislative immunity is not retroactive. He told Interfax that he plans to ask the State Duma to strip Mavrodi of his immunity if the case is sent to court.

Mavrodi, 39, hailed his victory Monday through his spokesman, Sergei Taranov, Reuters reported.

"If I had lost, I would be threatened by new imprisonment," Taranov quoted Mavrodi as saying. "Now I have new chances to defend the rights of my shareholders ... through political methods."

In his campaign, Mavrodi, a plump, bespectacled mathematician, promised to spend $10 million of his own money on local improvements such as a new telephone network.

But his main plank was to pitch the reopening of MMM offices for payments to investors to an election victory.

Asked last week on the television program Press Club when shareholders would be reimbursed, Mavrodi said: "Everything depends on the election results. I must be certain that I can personally run the company, without any interruptions."

In fact, Taranov told Interfax on Monday that MMM offices throughout Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States would reopen Tuesday. Most offices have been closed since August but shares have continued to change hands unofficially.

Zhigulin of the local election commission has said that in Mytishchi there are 36,000 MMM shareholders -- a number equivalent to 24 percent of the district's 500,000 voters.

Aside from Mavrodi, the other most controversial candidate was Alexander Fyodorov, a self-confessed racist and anti-Semite running on the ticket of the extreme right Russian National Unity movement. He and his men, wearing black armbands depicting swastikas, staged a string of rallies and public meetings during the campaign.

"I am the only Russian nationalist here," said Fyodorov, 36, in an interview Sunday sitting in front of a black, white and yellow nationalist flag in a local apartment. "The others are all from commercial structures or they are communists.

"People's lives have got worse in the current political climate," he said. "They don't believe in anything and that's why they're so passive. We have been trying to wake up the passive people."

All the Caucasians in Moscow should be expelled or imprisoned, he said, and their "gangs" should be "shot on the spot." As for the Jews, "research" would be needed to decide what the best policy was, said Fyodorov, a factory worker.

According to preliminary results, Fyodorov finished sixth in the balloting.

--Sveta Vinogradova contributed to this article.