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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gas King Bows Out of Business

A maverick businessman widely known as Moscow's filling-station king says he is selling off his 17 private outlets rather than persist in a drawn-out fight with City Hall to keep them.

"I consider it below my dignity to continue being engaged in this business in Moscow," said Ilya$Kolerov, who repeatedly has accused the city of persecuting his business because of his refusal to pay off city bureaucrats or give in to protection rackets.

In a statement released by his company, Ilya Kolerov & Co., he said he had sold the business to a group of companies led by Salambek Khadzhiyev, a former federal minister in charge of the petrochemical industry and one-time head of the Moscow-backed government in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Kolerov, 30, has often bucked the official tide in the local gasoline market, which is dominated by the city-controlled MPK company. Last March, he refused to go along with an MPK price hike, eventually causing the city firm to roll back its increase.

"I have not given in to any of the numerous criminal groups trying to take control over me and I have not accepted any 'bureaucratic protection rackets,' which are today worse than those of the bandits," he said in the company statement.

Among the investors that will now control the filling stations are Swiss and Serbian groups that "until recently did not operate in Russia," he said.

The Moscow Writer's Union also will have a stake. No price or other details of the sale were given.

A representative of the Moscow Writers Union, the Moscow chapter of a pro-reform writers' group, said its participation in the transaction was a continuation of earlier joint activities with Kolerov.

Vladimir Savelyev of the Writers Union said the group has "no money to buy anything," but that it has in the past collaborated with Kolerov, who is known as a friend of the arts.

The company's gas stations are still working and will accept vouchers issued earlier, the company's statement said.

The decision to sell, announced Saturday, followed months of infighting with the city authorities who have accused Kolerov of running up large tax debts and ignoring orders to comply with environmental rules.

Kolerov said the city has "unlawfully annulled the licenses it issued" to his company, fired city officials and journalists suspected of supporting him and "fabricated" charges against him and his employees.

It was not immediately clear how Khadzhiyev became involved. A one-time senior Chechen politician, he headed the pro-Russian government in Chechnya until October 1995. In the Soviet era, he served as minister of the chemical and petro-chemical industries. Last year he was appointed chairman of the State Committee for Industrial Policy, but lost that job when the committee was turned into a ministry in August.