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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Link Deputy's Murder to His Past

Chelyabinsk regional prosecutors who investigated the corruption allegations against lawmaker Vladimir Golovlyov called the sums embezzled and the number of people involved "unprecedented," and said they believe Golovlyov's death in an apparent contract hit last week was linked to the case.

The investigation, which concerns Golovlyov's work as a regional privatization chief in 1991-92, "unearthed such a thick layer of crimes and such a large amount of embezzled [funds] that this, and the way these ill-gotten gains were laundered, was the main cause behind the killing," a spokesman from the Chelyabinsk regional prosecutor's office said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Golovlyov, a State Duma deputy and member of the opposition Liberal Russia movement, was gunned down last Wednesday as he was walking his dog near his home in northern Moscow. He was buried Saturday.

Speculation about the motives has abounded. Prosecutors investigating the murder say they are following a number of leads, including Golovlyov's political activities and his work in Chelyabinsk. Liberal Russia has called the killing retribution for its opposition to the Kremlin. Golovlyov's aide and some fellow deputies, meanwhile, have suggested their colleague knew too much about the dubious practices of high-ranking federal officials and had threatened to dish the dirt.

The Chelyabinsk prosecutor's spokesman said the corruption probe, opened in 1996, pointed to the embezzlement of some 3 billion redenominated rubles -- estimated to be worth $500 million to $600 million -- through privatization schemes involving shares of major regional enterprises, including the Magnitogorsk metallurgical complex.

The money, he said, was parked in bank accounts in Cyprus, Germany, Britain, the United States and the Virgin Islands, and has led to a separate money-laundering case involving international cooperation.

In addition to the shares of large local companies, the embezzlement charges against Golovlyov also involved machinations with the notorious privatization vouchers given out to Russian citizens in the early 1990s.

The prosecutor's spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that staff from all of the region's law enforcement agencies had lost their vouchers in "Golovlyov's" investment funds. "But that is not why we opened this case," he added.

Golovlyov's name became widely known last fall after he announced his defection from the Union of Right Forces to join Liberal Russia, which is funded in part by tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a one-time Kremlin insider who has become one of President Vladimir Putin's most virulent critics.

Shortly thereafter, the Prosecutor General's Office convinced the Duma to partially lift Golovlyov's immunity from prosecution so that he could be questioned in the Chelyabinsk embezzlement case. Golovlyov and five former subordinates were charged. The prosecutor's office said it was planning to ask the Duma when it returned from its summer break to allow Golovlyov to be brought to trial.

The Chelyabinsk spokesman said Golovlyov's personal wealth was estimated at a minimum of $100 million and some of his property has been seized, including three houses in the prestigious Odintsovo district outside Moscow. The spokesman also said prosecutors believed Golovlyov had taken a 12 million ruble bribe and had used ill-gotten gains to fund election campaigns in the 1999 Duma race.

Golovlyov's lawyer, Boris Zolotukhin, condemned the statements as unethical.

"Article 49 of the Constitution establishes that no one can be pronounced guilty without a court verdict," Zolotukhin told Grani.ru. "I defended Golovlyov's interests, I know the case materials ... and I know that there isn't a word there about Golovlyov's personal wealth being valued at $100 million."

Early this month, Golovlyov had finished reading the 100-odd volumes of case material, inching open the door for the case to be sent to court.

According to his aide, Golovlyov had given investigators incriminating evidence against dozens of high-profile government officials involved in various machinations and even claimed that he had made a videotape with the evidence.

Unsubstantiated press reports have said the officials include Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, who occupied several posts in Chelyabinsk in the early 1990s, Labor Minister Alexander Pochinok, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and early 1990s privatization chief Anatoly Chubais. Another of the high-profile names mentioned in the press is current Chelyabinsk Governor Pyotr Sumin, who was also a regional official in the early 1990s.

"Vladimir Ivanovich believed that the investigators' initial demand that he give evidence against such well-known people was a sort of test to see how much he knew," Golovlyov's aide, Andrei Sidelnikov, told the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper last week, without giving names. "And when Vladimir Ivanovich started talking, the investigators simply got frightened by the information he had."

Sidelnikov said Golovlyov had told him about the videotape but that he had not seen it. "He said that if anything should happen to him, the people who have the videotape would reveal it," Sidelnikov was quoted as saying.

The Chelyabinsk prosecutor's spokesman said he had heard nothing of the tape and had no details on whether the officials mentioned in the press would be questioned. But he said Golovlyov was "unquestionably a smart man" and did not name any names during questioning.

Press reports said the tape had been made in London, where Berezovsky now lives in self-imposed exile. Berezovsky has been known to use video materials in his anti-Kremlin campaign in the past. Last March, he presented a film suggesting that the Federal Security Service had been involved in the deadly 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and two other cities, and in a foiled bombing attempt in Ryazan. The presentation was widely publicized but provided no conclusive evidence.

After Golovlyov's death, Liberal Russia co-chairman Sergei Yushenkov called the murder political, citing the many problems the movement has run into. Detectives investigating the killing spent at least two days searching the group's offices and confiscating evidence.

Last month, the Justice Ministry refused to register Liberal Russia as a party, citing discrepancies in its charter.

The Chelyabinsk spokesman said Tuesday that Golovlyov's colleagues would have done him a favor if they had fully stripped him of immunity last year and allowed prosecutors to arrest him.

"We feared for his life," the spokesman said. "We are sure that if Vladimir Ivanovich Golovlyov had been under arrest rather than living at home, he would be alive today. And the prosecutors' goal had been to see him alive and well, sitting on the defendant's bench."