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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Fires Top Privatization Official

Mayor Yury Luzhkov's government, signalling a new course for privatization in the capital, publicly fired one of its top property officials on the grounds that he sold off city assets too cheaply, city officials said Tuesday.

Vladimir Bushev, head of the Moscow Property Fund, was lambasted at the March 15 city government session after reporting that the city had received a total of 23 billion rubles ($13.4 million) from the sale of shares in 262 privatized companies.

Then, according to mayoral spokeswoman Galina Sugak, Moscow Prime Minister Konstantin Buravlyov fired him on the spot, saying that the city should have earned closer to 100 billion rubles from the sales.

The Moscow Property Fund, formed by the now defunct Moscow City Council, oversees voucher auctions after the Moscow Property Committee, a mayoral agency, gives permission for a company to privatize. Bushev was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The firing was part of Luzhkov's continuing struggle to reap more privatization revenues for the city budget -- and to wrest control over property in Moscow from chairman of the State Property Committee Anatoly Chubais, whom the mayor has repeatedly accused of selling off city property on the cheap.

Luzhkov's top press spokesman, Sergei Tsoi, said Tuesday that Bushev's ouster sprang from "the same problem" as the Chubais-Luzhkov battle.

"It is linked with the principle that the Moscow government is upholding: that the property of Russia is worth more than the prices at which it is being sold," Tsoi said in an interview.

Chubais's spokespeople at the State Property Committee said they could not comment on the ouster, but Chubais responded to a similar Luzhkov accusation in February by accusing the mayor of opposing cheap sell-offs in order to keep property in the hands of bureaucrats.

In an interview in last Friday's issue of Moskovsky Komsomolyets, Luzhkov reiterated his charge that under Chubais's policies, "Moscow is being sold off for a song."

Although Bushev was installed not by Chubais but by the Moscow City Council that was dissolved after the October rebellion, Luzhkov apparently also found him an insufficiently enthusiastic advocate of the "special privatization plan" Luzhkov favors for Moscow.

Bushev's fall leaves Moscow's two main privatization departments headless in the midst of the city government's fight to run privatization its own way.

Moscow Property Committee President Alexander Nikitin recently quit to work for President Boris Yeltsin as a high-level manager. In an interview Tuesday, he said he resigned voluntarily after Luzhkov recommended him for the federal post.

Moscow Property Committee press spokesman Lev Khocheturov said the mayor would soon choose a new president to continue the work of Nikitin, a Luzhkov supporter who was working on drafting the "special privatization plan."

The plan has been rejected by Yeltsin, according to Chubais officials, but Luzhkov continues to push it. The mayor has said he would like to sell off less city property more slowly than under Chubais' program, for higher prices that would flow straight to city coffers.

A mayoral document given to city officials March 9 accused Bushev's Moscow Property Fund of not taking "into account the particularities of the city" while implementing privatization.

As for Bushev's dramatic public firing, it was staged, said mayoral spokesman Igor Zverev.

There was little new information in Bushev's March 15 report, but Zverev said Bushev was allowed to read it "in order to show clearly his unhelpfulness and incompetence."

Zverev called Bushev's Fund a vestige of the defunct Moscow City Council's parallel city government that merely "doubles the functions" of the Committee, a mayoral entity. Luzhkov has said it is "no longer needed," according to Sugak.