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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Files Reveal Sobchak Flat Abuses

ST. PETERSBURG -- Documents recently released by the State Duma indicate that former St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak arranged for everyone from his top aide's mother to his chauffeurs to buy apartments from city hall at cut-rate prices, in a practice that cost taxpayers $2 million last year.

In a 1995 decree, Sobchak granted himself the power to offer apartments from the city's housing fund to citizens of distinction at a "state price," which usually has worked out to be about one-fifth of market value.

Among the recipients of the 132 apartments distributed were the editors of two of St. Petersburg's five daily newspapers, Chas Pik and Nevskoye Vremya; the pop stars Sergei Rogozhin and Igor Kornelyuk; and prominent businesses, including the Baltika beer brewery and Promstroi-Invest, a subsidiary of St. Petersburg's largest bank, Promstroibank.

Sobchak's decree said the apartments would be used to reward citizens of "high cultural merit," "high achievement in sports" or other distinctions, including decorated military service.

The decree specifically forbade offering city-owned apartments to "commercial structures and businessmen," which would presumably include Promstroibank and Baltika. Neither of those two companies would comment Monday.

According to Alexander Shishlov, the State Duma deputy and Yabloko member who made the documents public, more than 40 people or organizations received apartments under Sobchak's bargain plan but did not deserve them.

"A third of the people receiving these apartments last year are of no discernible distinction whatsoever," Shishlov said at a news conference Monday. He said the combined difference between the "state price" and the market value of the city-owned apartments was about $2 million.

Sobchak could not be reached for comment Monday.

Shishlov said he did not plan to pursue criminal charges in the housing scandal, but he said Sobchak's decree, which is still on the books, ought to be struck down.

At the Legislative Assembly, Alexei Kovalyov, head of the Housing Commission, said he plans to file suit with the city prosecutor for the return of the apartments. "Such abuses cannot go without notice," Kovalyov said in a telephone interview Monday.

Nearly 30 percent of the city's 5 million residents still reside in communal flats, Kovalyov said, adding that more than a million St. Petersburgers are still on Soviet-era apartment waiting lists.

Shishlov said his investigation was sparked by reports in August that Alla Manilova, editor of Nevskoye Vremya, had received the mayor's permission to buy an apartment worth at least $40,000 for less than a fifth of that amount.

Several Nevskoye Vremya reporters quit this summer, protesting that Manilova was skewing news coverage to favor Sobchak. "I think we can draw our own conclusions," said Shishlov.

Manilova said in a telephone interview Monday that she had received a bargain apartment on Ulitsa Pravdy near Vladimirskaya metro station on the basis of the social and cultural distinctions of other family members.

Manilova said her mother is a survivor of the 900-day siege of Leningrad and that her husband has a distinguished military record. She declined to elaborate on her husband's career, saying it was "too secret to discuss."