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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Probe Voloshin's Past

Fueling rumors of a heated struggle between two Kremlin clans, the Prosecutor General's Office announced Thursday that it has launched an inspection into the prior commercial activities of one the country's most powerful officials, presidential chief of staff Alexander Voloshin.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said the inspection -- an initial probe that may or may not result in a criminal case -- was prompted by requests from several State Duma deputies, notwithstanding the Duma's failure late last year to pass a motion for an official parliamentary inquiry.

"Several deputies asked us to inspect Voloshin's activities in the period when he worked in the commercial system, and we are doing so," Ustinov was quoted by Interfax as saying. "It's no secret that entering government, he [Voloshin] had been a businessman. It's not against the law."

The probe comes on the heels of persistent speculation about Voloshin's imminent sacking, as well as several high-profile cases against officials associated with former President Boris Yeltsin's influential inner circle, and several political analysts said Thursday that it appears to be the latest installment in the battle between two powerful clans influencing President Vladimir Putin.

On Jan. 3, after a three-month criminal investigation, Putin sacked Railways Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko, who, like Voloshin, had been linked in media reports to Boris Berezovsky -- the once-influential tycoon who retreated into self-exile after Putin began consolidating his power. On Dec. 19, prosecutors arrested Vyacheslav Aminov, a businessman reportedly tied to Berezovsky and Voloshin. He was later freed on condition he not leave Moscow.

"There is a serious conflict between two political clans," Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov said. "One is the group of Putin allies from St. Petersburg, united mostly on the basis that they are old colleagues from the special services. The other is the old Kremlin team joined by Moscow and St. Petersburg liberals.

"While it's obvious that one day Voloshin will be removed, the question remains: Who will replace him? So far there does not seem to be a person or team that could be as effective as Voloshin and some of his allies in sorting out political issues such as dealing with the State Duma, the Federation Council or the press."

Markov also said that a criminal investigation would raise the stakes in the Kremlin intrigue around Voloshin.

"It's one thing when somebody is dismissed and given a sinecure, and another when the dismissal is followed by a jail term," he said.

Andrei Ryabov, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, said it was too early to draw conclusions.

"It looks like yet another tug-of-war between the clans around Putin," he said. "Putin doesn't seem to have made up his mind yet. Let's wait and see whether any of the recent ... probes actually result in anything."

In the early 1990s, Voloshin worked with Berezovsky on so-called pyramid schemes and shady voucher privatizations, Novaya Gazeta and some other media have reported. According to the reports, Voloshin ran several companies that traded stakes in worthless "investment funds" for vouchers. His Federal Stock Corp. was accused of embezzling millions of dollars while organizing the sale of federal property, but the case never led to criminal charges.