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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutor Resigns as Sibneft Oil Raided




Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov unexpectedly resigned Tuesday, as television showed dramatic footage of his prosecutors raiding the Moscow headquarters of Boris Berezovsky's Sibneft oil company.


Skuratov, 46, who has been Russia's top prosecutor since 1995, said he was resigning because of health problems. But analysts said it was more likely he was dismissed for political reasons by President Boris Yeltsin, who raced into the Kremlin for the first time this year and fired several members of his staff.


The timing of Skuratov's departure and the Sibneft raid suggested the two events were related. But if so, it was unclear how: Was Skuratov forced out because he went after the politically connected Berezovsky, or because he tried not to?


Skuratov has crossed other powerful interests in recent weeks, from Gazprom to the former Central Bank leadership to Uneximbank to the national power grid, Unified Energy Systems. So there was no shortage of theories Tuesday about his departure.


"The question of who has managed to talk Yeltsin into firing Skuratov will be answered only when we see who has his candidate appointed" as Russia's next prosecutor, said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at Carnegie Moscow Center.


The Prosecutor General's Office denied there was any connection between Skuratov's resignation and Berezovsky. Skuratov's office said he offered his resignation Monday evening and checked into a hospital Tuesday with a heart ailment.


Tuesday morning, investigators from the prosecutor's office raided the headquarters of Sibneft. Skuratov's resignation was announced only midafternoon.


The order to raid Sibneft was signed by Skuratov's deputy.


The investigators were reported to be combing Sibneft offices to try to find audiotapes containing private conversations of Yeltsin's family members.


Moskovsky Komsomolets reported last month that the Atoll private security company, which the newspaper said was controlled by Berezovsky, was listening in on Yeltsin's family.


Berezovsky swiftly denied this Jan. 20 report, calling it "absolute lies." But less than two days later, Skuratov launched an official investigation into the newspaper's allegations.


The prosecutor's office said there was no link between Skuratov's resignation and the raid of Sibneft offices. "It was a sheer coincidence," said Vladimir Kazakov, head of the prime investigations department at the prosecutor's office.


Alexander Pribylovsky of the Panorama research center, however, said Skuratov may have angered Yeltsin by failing to clear his decision to investigate Berezovsky with him, going through Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov instead. In Yeltsin's absence in recent weeks, Primakov has been running day-to-day affairs.


Primakov and Berezovsky have been at loggerheads for some time. Most recently, the financial tycoon harshly criticized the prime minister's declaration Sunday to go after economic criminals and fill Russia's prisons with those who have "plundered" Russia.


A senior Kremlin official denied there was any conflict between Skuratov's office and Yeltsin's administration. On the contrary, the offices have been cooperating closely, said Yevgeny Lisov, head of the presidential administration's control department.


Petrov, of the Carnegie Moscow Center, noted that Berezovsky may be not the only representative of Russia's political, financial and bureaucratic elite who would welcome Skuratov's fall.


Last November, Skuratov's office detained a top executive in Vladimir Potanin's Interros empire over alleged gross embezzlement and rigged privatization of the Cherepovetsk-based Azot plant.


In December, Skuratov said his office had started criminal proceedings against a number of Central Bank officials whom he accused of cheating on their expense accounts, money laundering and facilitating illegal capital export.


Late last month, the top prosecutor wrote a letter to Primakov asking the government to reverse the December 1996 auction of 8.49 percent of Unified Energy Systems in what amounted to an attack on Gazprom, Potanin's Uneximbank and the entire national privatization program.


A senior Communist legislator said Tuesday that Skuratov has long been under pressure to step down.


"Many disliked the policy of the prosecutor's office, which is calling former heads of regional administrations to account regardless of ranks and posts," said Viktor Ilyukin, the head of the State Duma's security committee and a former senior prosecutor himself.


Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Yeltsin's main critic, told Ekho Moskvy radio that Skuratov's resignation concealed an attempt by Yeltsin's staff to "paralyze the prosecutor's office" and hold up investigations.


However, Skuratov's office has been widely criticized for failing to solve several high-profile murders that have shocked the nation.


Yeltsin has been away from the Kremlin in recent weeks while recovering from a bleeding ulcer. As he has done after past illnesses to show Russia's political elite that he is back in business, Yeltsin marked his return to the Kremlin by firing some members of his administration.


Yeltsin fired four of his advisers - Sergei Krasavchenko, Emil Pain, Viktoria Mitina and Lyudmila Pikhoya. He also gave deputy chief of staff Sergei Prikhodko a second job as head of the presidential foreign policy department, the presidential press service said. Another deputy chief of staff, Alexei Ogaryov, was dismissed from the job and named deputy chief of the Security Council.


Yeltsin accepted Skuratov's resignation request and submitted it to the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, which must approve the firing and hiring of chief prosecutors.