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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fund Probe to Seek Out Indiscretion

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The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly is extremely confused. City Hall unexpectedly froze the lawmakers' discretionary funds late last month and then announced that a number of deputies should have the way in which they have been allocating their funds reanalyzed by the city finance committee in order to see whether the money is being used appropriately.

This was surprising enough, but it is not what is really bothering the assembly. The remarkable aspect of the whole business is rather that a special list has been drawn up of lawmakers who are deemed most suspicious in this regard — and most of the names on that list are of deputies who support Governor Vladimir Yakovlev.

This goes completely against all original prognoses, which forecast trouble for those legislators who are known opponents of City Hall and everything it does. Such conjecture was at least based on precedent: Lawmakers from the Yabloko and Union of Right Forces, or SPS, have complained in the past of having the financing of their personal funds delayed, while those loyal to Smolny have been handed large amounts of money to get on with whatever project they want.

Now that everything is the other way around, members of the St. Petersburg parliament are racking their brains to find an explanation. "I just can't think of a rational answer," said Yabloko faction leader Mikhail Amosov last week, shaking his head. Amosov himself had a few thousand rubles taken from his fund, meaning that he has had to put that new car for police station No. 62 on hold, and freeze a project to renovate a sports ground for the Technological University.

But such losses don't compare with those of Igor Rimmer, a deputy who has backed the governor in many of the assembly's debates and whose fund is now short of more than 3 million rubles (about $105,000). Rimmer says that this has put an end to his financing of cheap holidays and bread subsidies for the poorer residents of his district. In fact, Rimmer seems to be so disgusted with life at the moment that he has suggested that the Legislative Assembly be disbanded.

In the meantime, Rimmer is also asking why City Hall is only checking lawmakers' funds and not budget spending in general and why this is all happening now in any case.

Smolny is calling the process a routine check and maintaining that everything would have been fine if the deputies had transferred money correctly — i.e. via district administrations (sub-departments of City Hall) instead of (in Rimmer's case) directly to companies that produce cheap bread.

Why Yakovlev-friendly deputies have suffered more than others is unclear, but the consensus in the assembly is that by meddling with the discretionary funds, City Hall is trying to find some more cash for its own budget. At the same time, however, even if the administration seized 10 percent of lawmakers' money, it would only gain around 110 million rubles, small potatoes compared with the total budget revenue forecast of more than 40 billion rubles for 2001.

Petty revenge may prove to be the reason for the trouble. Sources in the Legislative Assembly say the raid on the discretionary funds may have its roots in a series of insignificant squabbles between Smolny's finance chief and the head of the assembly's budget committee. To teach those pesky legislators a lesson, Smolny has taken away their money bags. Petty, but all too believable.

Vladimir Kovalyev is a reporter for The St. Petersburg Times.