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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vavilov's Bid for Duma Comes Under Scrutiny

Former Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov's plan to land a seat in the State Duma came under threat Wednesday when a rival said he should be barred from running until he is cleared of suspicions of financial wrongdoing.

Vavilov's bid for a vacant Duma seat in the Altai region in southern Siberia was also under scrutiny from a local election commission, which is investigating claims he violated campaign law.

Vavilov is a favorite to win the May 31 by-election, but he is dogged by reports linking him with the disappearance of millions of dollars of state funds during his almost five years service as deputy finance minister from 1992 to 1997.

While making no direct allegations against Vavilov, Agrarian Party of Russia leader Mikhail Lapshin, one of 11 other candidates running, argued at a news conference Wednesday that the sheer weight of damning material about Vavilov warranted a thorough investigation into his eligibility as a candidate.

"There is [such a thing as] a criminal past as ruled by a court, and then there is the reputation of a person," said Lapshin, leader of the 300,000-member Agrarian faction, which is allied with the Communist Party.

"People may have different ideological beliefs, but everyone should be equally concerned that only people with no connection with any kind of criminal activities have a place at any levels of government."

Lapshin also claimed the head of the republic's administration, Semyon Zubakin, was using his influence to secure Vavilov's victory. Zubakin was appointed governor in December after a vigorous campaign financed in part by Vavilov.

"In public appearances, in the media ... wherever possible [Zubakin] stresses that the only possible candidate is Vavilov," Lapshin said.

Vavilov, a one-time prot?g? of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, engineered the much-criticized system of authorized banks, whereby private banks handled some of the government's accounts. After he lost his post in a Cabinet reshuffle last April, he was appointed president of one of the country's largest banks, the International Finance Corp. Last month he became an adviser to the national gas supplier Gazprom.

In February last year, a bomb destroyed Vavilov's car, parked beside the Finance Ministry, in what police said was probably a warning.

In July, Central Bank chief Sergei Dubinin held Vavilov responsible for the mishandling and partial embezzlement of over $500 million of government funds. Shortly after, shots were fired at Dubinin's apartment. Dubinin later retracted the comments. Itar-Tass reported Tuesday that the Altai region's electoral commission had refused to register Vavilov as a candidate because he had begun campaigning before he was registered on the ballot.