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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aksyonenko Reneges On Duma Quizzing

First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko has informed the State Duma that he will not report to parliament Friday to answer questions about corruption allegations against him as he previously said he would.

Aksyonenko, the former railways minister, was asked last month by the Duma to explain the relationship between the ministry and TransRail, a Swiss-based freight agent that is half-owned by the ministry and has been at the center of the allegations.

Freight industry insiders say Trans-Rail has attained a monopoly position through preferential treatment by the ministry and speculate that the company is being used by rail officials to redirect cash flows into their own pockets.

Aksyonenko, 50, who is widely described as the prot?g? of tycoon Boris Berezovsky, seems to be emerging as a more significant figure than Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin.

As infighting in the Cabinet escalated this week, Aksyonenko appeared to be trying to take control of the state's main sources of income, and some suggested that he would be the Kremlin's favorite candidate for president in 2000.

Aksyonenko sent word of his refusal to attend Friday's "government hour" at the Duma in a letter to Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov dated May 31. In it, Aksyonenko curtly states that he will not attend because of "my busy schedule in my new sphere of work."

Addressing the corruption allegations, Aksyonenko wrote that he was "taking specific legal action to protect my honor and dignity," and that any explanations before the Duma "could be seen in certain circles as an attempt to influence the court's decision."

Aksyonenko spokesman Alexei Kurtov said as far as he knew, Aksyonenko had not yet taken formal legal action but was "reserving that possibility."

The letter was an abrupt about-face from Aksyonenko's previous statements. In a May 19 interview with the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, he said, "I will definitely speak there [at the Duma] to once and for all put an end to all the tall tales surrounding this issue."

Railway Ministry spokesman Valery Zudin also told The Moscow Times that Aksyonenko intended to fulfill the Duma's request.

Duma Deputy Alexander Vengerovsky, who initially proposed inviting Aksyonenko to speak about TransRail, slammed Aksyonenko's "sloppily written and legally incorrect" letter to Seleznyov.

"This speaks to either his extremely busy schedule or his political immaturity," the deputy said. Vengerovsky said he was not interested in hearing the explanations of the new railways minister or any other officials.

"It was under his [Aksyonenko's] leadership that questions piled up," he said. "Someone else would just say he wasn't privy to that information."

Clarification of the TransRail allegations appears to be a hostage to the current political climate.

While Vengerovsky, a monarchist who calls himself a prince, is not the most credible figure, his interest in hearing Aksyonenko's explanation was supported by the Duma as a whole. Most deputies are now resigned to working with the new government rather than risking their political necks in another showdown with the Kremlin.

And Aksyonenko, said one assistant in the White House, is waiting to see "how the Duma will behave" in relation to the new government before indulging its request.

But the source acknowledged that Aksyonenko's refusal to give explanations would only further antagonize the news media and said his behavior was probably the result of his lack of experience in such a public position.

Aksyonenko's apparent importance to the Kremlin seemed to be reflected in the actions of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party's faction in the Duma. Seleznyov said that Zhirinovsky, who generally uses his seat to help the Kremlin, had spoken out against asking Aksyonenko for explanations at this week's Duma Council meeting, Itar-Tass reported.

Vengerovsky, who used to be the No. 2 man in LDPR but has since been excluded from the party, said Zhirinovsky did not raise any objections originally and LDPR voted for his proposal.