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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Told to Repatriate His Savings

A top Communist has called on President Boris Yeltsin to withdraw the money from his personal foreign bank accounts and deposit it in Russian banks as an example to perpetrators of capital flight.

"If only God would grant that we could return 10 or 15 percent of what has been taken abroad, the country would breathe to life," said Viktor Ilyukhin, a former prosecutor and influential State Duma deputy.

At a news conference Tuesday, Ilyukhin distributed an open letter he had written to Yeltsin, throwing down a gauntlet: If the president loves his country, he will bring his money back.

"Mr. President!" the letter says. "If you are a Russian patriot, an assertion you have not tired of repeating over the past two years, if the tragedy of the Russian people is not a matter of indifference to you, I suggest you transfer your personal bank accounts in foreign banks, for example, in England, into domestic banks and realistically help the people out of their economic dead end."

But Ilyukhin offered no direct evidence that the president has accounts abroad at the news conference, sparsely attended save for a few television camera operators and correspondents of leftist newspapers. He told reporters afterward that some of his evidence had come from U.S. sources.

Ilyukhin pointed to beneficiaries of crony capitalism - naming so-called oligarchs such as Vladimir Gusinsky, a banking and media mogul - as the cause of Russia's current budget crunch.

Last month, the Duma passed an austerity budget into which new credits from the International Monetary Fund and a rescheduling of Russia's external debt are already written.

If Russia could repatriate that 10 percent to 15 percent - between $10 billion and $15 billion, according to Ilyukhin - "then we wouldn't have to bow before the IMF or ask for humiliating loans," he said. "Let the money be located in Russian banks and work for the Russian economy."

He said the money could theoretically be earmarked to pay off foreign debts. Russia owes $17.5 billion to foreign creditors this year. Debt payments are budgeted at $9.5 billion and the government is seeking a new $4.5 billion credit from the IMF.

In return for Yeltsin's heroic bank transfer, Ilyukhin said he would try to push through the Duma an amendment to the criminal code giving foreign account holders 100 days to bring their money home - and prove they came by it honestly - or face criminal charges.

Many Russian citizens have accounts abroad, and not only oligarchs. Citizens working, visiting, or studying abroad - such as Yeltsin's grandson, who is enrolled in a British private school - are allowed to open bank accounts for use in the country where they are staying.

Private citizens in Russia may legally have accounts abroad, but only with the permission of the Central Bank, said Eleonora Sergeyeva, a senior partner at Chadbourne and Parke law firm. Failure to get permission is a civil offense punishable by a fine, the sum total of the amount in the foreign account.

"And insofar as I know, no one at the Central Bank has ever given out such permissions," Sergeyeva said.

While illegal possession of a foreign bank account is a civil offense, money in foreign accounts is subject to taxation, and tax evasion is a criminal offense.

Ilyukhin is a conservative Communist known for his ambitions to revive the Soviet system. But the mainstream of the Communist Party has distanced itself from his radical views, and Ilyukhin was considering an independent run for the Duma in December 1999.

He also styles himself a corruption fighter and is an opponent of Yeltsin.