Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Blast Yeltsin Over Firing Of Officials

Moscow's prosecutors came out Friday in defense of their boss, Gennady Ponomaryov, the day after President Boris Yeltsin said he held him responsible for the killing of Vladislav Listyev.

At an impassioned extraordinary meeting in the Moscow Prosecutor's Office headquarters, speaker after speaker praised the professionalism of Ponomaryov, denounced Yeltsin as a legal illiterate and complained of being poorly equipped to fight crime.

"It was a decision worthy of a run-of-the-mill local party secretary in deepest Siberia," Yury Tabakov, head of the investigative department of the Moscow Prosecutor's Office, said of Yeltsin's call to remove Ponomaryov.

In an emotional address at the Ostankino television center Thursday, the president told journalists that crime in Moscow was out of control and now, after Listyev's murder, Ponomaryov and the Moscow police chief, Vladimir Pankratov, would be sacked.

"If we dismiss them from their posts it will be small punishment because we are talking about the life of a person," Yeltsin said.

But Sergei Gerasimov, Ponomaryov's deputy, told the meeting Friday afternoon that an official decree sacking the two men had not yet been signed.

"I do not yet know of a decision being made about Ponomaryov or Pankratov," Gerasimov said.

The meeting rejected calls for a strike and instead focused on halting Ponomaryov's dismissal with a public statement that called Yeltsin's remarks "hasty and nonobjective." "Instead of serious practical measures by the state to counteract crime a doubtful and willful decision to dismiss the city's prosecutor is being proposed that not only will not help the matter in hand, but will assist those forces which are destabilizing law and order," the statement said.

One Moscow district prosecutor said he thought Yeltsin had been pushed into an emotional decision without thinking about it.

"It was a spontaneous outburst," said Nikolai Ulybishev. "Sacking the prosecutor and the head of the Moscow police is absolutely incorrect. He doesn't understand the situation."

Ulybishev said a typical Moscow murder investigation "is terminated after two or three weeks, a new wave of fresh business just sweeps it away."

Another speaker complained that "20-year old students are investigating murders" because of poor staffing levels, low pay in the prosecutor's office and a soaring crime rate. District prosecutor Vitaly Ryabov said Listyev's murder was the 281st in Moscow this year. He said 1,820 people were murdered in the city in 1994.

Ponomaryov, 49, who has been Moscow prosecutor since 1989 has the reputation of an independent-minded professional unafraid to speak his mind. In October 1993 he was reputedly offered Russia's top legal job, prosecutor general, but turned it down. The job went instead to Alexei Kazannik and is now held by a firm Yeltsin loyalist Alexei Ilyushenko.

Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the State Duma Security Committee said Thursday that Ponomaryov was "a first-class professional and an exceptionally decent and honest man incapable of bypassing the law."

But his independent line has brought him into conflict with powerful men in the Kremlin, in particular Ilyushenko and the head of Yeltsin's bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov.

Ponomaryov enraged Ilyushenko when he terminated a proposed lawsuit against former vice president Alexander Rutskoi for lack of evidence and had Ilyushenko himself questioned on the issue. According to the testimony of Kazannik in a newspaper interview, Korzhakov has tried to have Ponomaryov fired.

The Kremlin bodyguard, often dubbed "Yeltsin's Rasputin," is also no friend of Pankratov, a career police officer and Moscow's police chief since November 1992. Pankratov is a prot?g? of Korzhakov's bitter opponent Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Luzhkov has been dangerously exposed by the events of the last 48 hours. Yeltsin's speech at Ostankino contained several barbs against city authorities, who, the president said, tolerated one of the worst crime situations in Russia.

"The leaders of the city turn a blind eye to the links between mafia structures and administrative organs and the Interior Ministry," Yeltsin declared.

Yeltsin and Luzhkov met Thursday before the president went to Ostankino. But Moscow Deputy Prosecutor Gerasimov said Luzhkov was not told of any plans to fire Ponomaryov or Pankratov.