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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Primorye Investigates Fuel Shortage

The Primorye Prosecutor's Office, blaming regional authorities for an energy crisis last winter, has opened an investigation into the administration's possible mismanagement of fuel in 1997-2000, Interfax reported.

The criminal case was opened after the Finance Ministry completed an audit that found 433 million rubles ($14.8 million) worth of fuel had gone missing and the administration had exceeded its authority in supervising supplies, Interfax said.

Tens of thousands of residents in the Far East region spent much of last winter with little or no electricity and heating. The ensuing scandal led to then-Primorye Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko submitting a letter of resignation to President Vladimir Putin in February.

That same month, the government named Nazdratenko the head of the State Fisheries Committee, an appointment that was widely seen as a deal to prevent Nazdratenko from seeking re-election.

It was unclear Monday which — if any — former or current Primorye officials would be blamed for the energy crisis in the prosecutors' investigation. It was also unclear how long the investigation would last.

A Nazdratenko spokeswoman declined to comment Monday on the probe. Officials in the Primorye administration were not immediately available for comment due to the seven-hour time difference with Moscow.

The Primorye arbitration court has already fined the administration 812.5 million rubles for failing to fulfill the conditions of its contract with the Far East state fuel reserve and ordered it to return 77,000 metric tons of diesel and 23,000 tons of gasoline to the reserve, Interfax said.

Leonid Smirnyagin, a regional analyst at the Carnegie Center, said he found the investigation puzzling because fuel reserves are the responsibility of municipal, not regional, authorities.

However, he said, Nazdratenko's administration had likely taken control of distributing the fuel away from the cities.

He added that the investigation would do little toward resolving the region's chronic fuel shortages because federal policies were partly to blame.