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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Corruption Suspect Kokh Leaves Town

A day after announcing that Alfred Kokh was charged with embezzlement and ordered to stay in Moscow pending trial, city prosecutors said Wednesday that the former privatization chief had left Russia.

Moscow prosecutors refused to reveal when Kokh departed, where he is staying, or when he might return. The former State Property Committee chairman and close ally of Anatoly Chubais faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted of involvement in a 1993 property scam.

City prosecutors said Tuesday that Kokh had been ordered to stay within the limits of the Moscow region until his date in court. But Wednesday they said Kokh had been granted permission to attend to an urgent business matter abroad.

Kokh has been charged with helping organize a scheme in which the State Property Committee -- now a ministry -- distributed 21 Moscow apartments to Kremlin bureaucrats, including two to Kokh himself.

The case against Kokh, who organized some of the biggest and most hotly contested state property auctions, is one of the highest profile corruption scandals to hit post-Soviet Russia.

When the alleged embezzlement took place, Kokh was deputy head of the State Property Committee under Chubais. Prosecutors say they may still file charges against other former government officials, most of whom are Chubais' friends and associates. They include former federal bankruptcy service chief Pyotr Mostovoi and former State Property Committee officials Sergei Belyayev and Alexander Kazakov.

The deputy head of Russia's independent Audit Chamber, Yury Boldyrev, said in an interview Wednesday that he had earlier supplied prosecutors with evidence of far more serious corruption by Kokh and his allies while they held senior government posts.

Moscow city prosecutors said they knew where Kokh was and had every confidence that he would return to Russia as promised. "He received permission to leave a short time after being charged," said press secretary Svetlana Petrenko. "He came with a lawyer. They said that Kokh needed to go abroad on urgent business. I imagine there is a deadline by which he must return."

The prosecutor's office refused to say when the charges against Kokh were officially filed. Vladimir Nitkin, the Moscow prosecutor leading the Kokh investigation, said he had been forbidden to speak to the press about why Kokh was allowed to go abroad just days after Nitkin signed an order for Kokh to stay put.

Ekho Moskvy radio, citing sources in Russian law enforcement circles, reported that Kokh left the country two weeks ago.

Employees at Montes Auri, the Moscow investment firm which Kokh has chaired since Yeltsin fired him last summer, refused to give any information about their boss.

"Nobody in this office today can tell you where he is," said a Montes Auri secretary fielding telephone calls Wednesday.

Kokh has been tainted by corruption scandals before. He left the government last August after Yeltsin accused him of favoring certain bankers during a disputed auction last summer for a stake in the Svyazinvest telecommunications company. Soon after, Moscow city prosecutors launched a probe into why Kokh was paid a $100,000 book advance by a company with links to Uneximbank, the winner of the Svyazinvest auction.

Kokh has defended himself by accusing the auction's losers of organizing a campaign to oust him from power and discredit him in Russia's business circles.

In an interview published last month in the Izvestia daily,

Kokh hinted that he might be forced to leave Russia should prosecutors press on with corruption investigations. "I want to live in Russia," he said. "So I hope that the prosecutors will not give in to any pressure from the oligarchs."

Boldyrev of the Audit Chamber, a financial watchdog set up by the parliament, said that the charges against Kokh are minor compared to other crimes he committed during his four years in government service.

"The audit chamber and the general prosecutor's office have documents showing violations that are much more serious than manipulations with a few apartments or receiving large payments for writing books," Boldyrev said. "Perhaps the Moscow prosecutor thinks that here it will be easier to collect a watertight case needed for conviction than if he goes after how Kokh and some others ran loans-for-shares privatization."

Under the loans-for-shares scheme, which took place before the 1996 presidential elections, banks lent the government money in return for control of valuable enterprises, which they ultimately bought at bargain prices. Chubais has defended the scheme, saying that the government had no other option given the country's political instability at the time.

In a separate development, State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a Communist, said Wednesday he may launch an official protest with the prosecutor's office next week, demanding that Chubais be barred from taking over as chief executive officer of Unified Energy Systems. The company's board picked Chubais to run the mammoth Russian electricity monopoly last week.