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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Returned Trophy Bill Irks Duma Deputies

State Duma legislators were crying foul Monday after President Boris Yeltsin sent a bill on World War II trophy art back to the lower house of parliament on a technicality.


It is the latest twist in the long-running saga involving the bill, which claims as Russian property an estimated $65 billion of art treasures seized from Germany at the end of World War II.


Passage of the bill has angered Germany and complicated Yeltsin's efforts to foster good ties with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, his biggest ally in the West.


Deputies complain that in returning the law, Yeltsin is adding to the pressure on the Duma at a time when the parliament and the president are locked in a showdown over government plans to revise the underfunded 1997 budget.


Presidential aide Mikhail Krasnov said Yeltsin sent back the trophy art bill, and a second bill on consumer credit cooperatives, because some of the lawmakers registered as having voted were, in fact, not in the Duma building at the time.


It is an open secret that absent deputies regularly leave their electronic voting cards with colleagues who cast their votes for them. This practice has never been formally challenged until now.


Deputies in the communist-dominated legislature expressed anger that Yeltsin is now using the practice to challenge the validity of Duma legislation. (See Editorial, Page 10.)


"As I see it, the president has got no right to question whether deputies were there or not," said Communist legislator Nikolai Bindyukov. "It is up to the deputies how they vote."


He added, "It is beneath the president's dignity to decide such questions on what is a technicality."


It is understood that the Kremlin's objection does not apply to bills that the president has already signed into law.


Russia's upper house of parliament has already had the trophy art bill, and another bill on government powers, sent back by the president, also on the grounds of a technical violation during voting.


Earlier, the Russian leader vetoed the ill-fated trophy art bill, but both houses of parliament overrode his veto.


Under the Constitution, Yeltsin should have signed the law seven days after his veto was annulled.


This is not the first time the issue of absentee voting in the Duma has provoked controversy.


In March, the Kommersant Daily newspaper revealed that many lawmakers registered as voting were abroad at the time.


For example, on Feb. 21 Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and Our Home is Russia leader Sergei Belyaev are recorded as having voted. But the newspaper said Yavlinsky was in Hamburg, Germany and Belyaev was in the Iranian capital of Tehran that day.


The newspaper said information about the deputies' whereabouts had been supplied by the presidential administration.


In another incident, more than 40 Communist lawmakers -- including party leader Gennady Zyuganov -- were unable to vote because their voting cards were locked in the safe in the faction's offices.


Communist whip Oleg Shenkaryov had flown to Japan, taking the key to the safe with him.


Shenkaryov later explained that he kept the cards in his safe so that if any of his comrades failed to show, he could cast their votes.


Lawmakers argue that if proxy voting was banned, they would be forced to sit in the chamber for hours on end waiting to cast their votes.


"I am not saying that the practice is a correct one," Shenkaryov said at the time. "But all the factions do it, especially toward the end of the day."


The Duma is in recess until June 4, and it was not clear whether the chamber's leadership would bow to Yeltsin and vote again on the contested bills. Bindyukov predicted that if it came to a re-vote, deputies would pass the laws with an even bigger majority to spite the president.