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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutor Skuratov Slips Back To Work




What resignation?


As if it has not been handed in and accepted, Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov - whose title in recent weeks has often been preceded by the technically inaccurate qualifier "former" - was back in his downtown Moscow office Tuesday, gathering his deputies and getting ready for a meeting Wednesday about affairs in Chechnya.


Skuratov's quiet return - after about 20 days in the hospital and another two silent weeks apparently spent evading both the public and the parliament - looked somewhat triumphant, even if it was low-key.


But explanations of it Tuesday differed as wildly as those put forward over Skuratov's hasty resignation a little more than a month ago. Perhaps the most succinct theory was that of Andrei Piontkovsky of the Center for Strategic Studies, who opined, "There is only so long that you can sit under your bed, hiding."


As recently as Feb. 1, Skuratov handed President Boris Yeltsin his resignation letter.


As the ink on his resignation was drying, stunned Russian politicians were still digesting Skuratov's allegation in a letter to parliament that the Central Bank had funneled billions of dollars of the nation's hard-currency reserves into a secret offshore network - a sensational revelation that the bank has since somewhat grudgingly confirmed.


And at the same time, police in ski masks were raiding businesses linked to or owned by the mighty and controversial billionaire Boris Berezovsky - most notably a security firm on the grounds of Berezovsky's Sibneft oil company that prosecutors and Russian media claimed had been electronically eavesdropping on the president and his family.


Some media reported Yeltsin had demanded the raid on the Atoll security firm after being forced by his subordinates to listen to a tape recording of him doing and saying things in his own Kremlin bedroom.


In any case, Skuratov's departure was a mystery. Some theorized he was sacked for attacking Berezovsky. Others theorized he was sacked for refusing to attack Berezovsky. Still others wondered about his quickly infamous letter about FIMACO, the offshore Channel Islands company he outed in the letter to parliament, or other ongoing investigations against the politically powerful.


The truly naive even claimed that Skuratov had been judged wanting in the fight against anti-Semitism and was being sacked for that.


What Skuratov said was that he was sick. The day he submitted his resignation - and the Kremlin accepted with a speed suggesting it had been demanded, not volunteered - Skuratov promptly checked himself into the Central Clinical Hospital with "chest pains."


Although no one took his pleas of ill health seriously as an explanation, Yeltsin, himself constantly plagued by sickness, forwarded Skuratov's resignation to parliament for a stamp of approval.


But the Federation Council - the upper house of parliament, which has the power to review the hiring and firing of federal prosecutors - refused to rubber-stamp the resignation.


Instead, senators demanded Skuratov come before parliament to report the "real" reasons for his resignation. The council is scheduled to review Skuratov's resignation March 17.


So with Skuratov suddenly back at work - Russian news wires straightfacedly had him returning "from his vacation" - does that mean he hopes not to leave after all?


Very likely, said Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation think tank.


"[Skuratov] is a political animal and knows how to play the game," Volk said.


And if Skuratov was bumped for going up against Berezovsky, his return now could indeed be possible. Last week Yeltsin suddenly sacked Berezovsky - who was until then seen as close to the Yeltsin family and even, in some accounts, as a source of Yeltsin family money - from his position as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The financier who once bragged of leading a seven-man oligarchy that controls Kremlin policy and half of the Russian economy is today widely seen as on the run.


In Piontkovsky's view, Skuratov may feel safe about returning to work for the first time in weeks: "There are all these scandals, and no one has killed him yet."


On a less cloak-and-dagger note, it could just be that the Kremlin is ill-equipped to start looking for another Prosecutor General: Skuratov returned to work on the same day that the Kremlin chief of staff, Nikolai Bordyuzha, was rushed to the hospital with heart problems, Yeltsin was still in the hospital for additional treatment of his ulcer and Primakov was just getting back from his Sochi vacation.


"You know, it is troublesome to look for another person," Piontkovsky said.