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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kozak Tipped as New Prosecutor

President Vladimir Putin's close aide Dmitry Kozak has emerged as a likely frontrunner to succeed Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov -- six years after being passed over for the job.

Kozak, who crafted a series of legal reforms during Putin's first term in office, serves as Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District. He was thought to be the leading candidate for prosecutor general in spring 2000, after Putin was elected and before the president nominated Ustinov.

Another contender being tipped as Ustinov's successor is Alexander Konovalov, a former Bashkortostan chief prosecutor recently appointed as Putin's envoy to the Volga Federal District.

Kozak told his staffers Friday there was no substance to the speculation, Interfax reported.

Kozak's spokesman Fyodor Shcherbakov said he came to Moscow on Friday but that the trip was not linked to any possible new appointment.

"This is a routine trip that was scheduled two weeks ago," Shcherbakov said, Interfax reported.

No one at Kozak's office answered the telephone Sunday.

Kommersant on Saturday, however, cited a source in his office as saying Kozak would accept the post if he were offered it.

As prosecutor general Kozak would likely resurrect his previous plan to hand over investigative powers from law enforcement agencies, including the Prosecutor General's Office, to a separate investigation service. The prosecutor's office would supervise compliance of law enforcement and other government agencies with the law, according to the plan.

A former Kremlin first deputy chief of staff and Cabinet chief of staff, Kozak has also been touted as a possible presidential candidate, though last year he said he was not planning to run in 2008.

Arguably the most inventive and energetic, if not the most effective, administrator on Putin's team, Kozak has been behind many major reforms.

In 2001 he authored amendments to the Criminal Code bringing criminal procedure in line with the Constitution by requiring court warrants for arrests and searches; he also drew up public administration and judicial reforms. The public administration reform, which got under way after he was appointed as envoy to the Southern Federal District, ultimately failed to win support.

His self-governance reform, which was aimed at making local government more accountable to its electorate and ensuring that it adhered to its fiscal promises, became law in 2003. It was due to come into effect this year, but last September the State Duma voted to delay the reform until 2009 -- well after the 2007 Duma and 2008 presidential elections.

Putin appointed Kozak as his envoy to the Southern Federal District shortly after the Beslan hostage crisis in September 2004 in an effort to strengthen regional governments in the North Caucasus.

Kozak's record as envoy has also been mixed. He played a crucial role in replacing the leaders of North Ossetia, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Dagestan, where ruling elites were often criticized over corruption and nepotism. In April, however, Kozak failed in an attempt to remove Adygeyan President Khazret Sovmen from office and merge the republic with the neighboring Krasnodar region -- a measure first proposed in 2004.

Konovalov, the other main candidate tipped to succeed Ustinov, is less well known to the public.

Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the Council for National Strategy think tank, said Konovalov had the backing of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is widely viewed as a possible presidential candidate.

Konovalov, 37, a native of St. Petersburg who like Putin graduated from Leningrad State University with a degree in law, worked as the city's deputy prosecutor before being appointed Bashkortostan's chief prosecutor in February 2005.

Konovalov's appointment as a presidential envoy in a government shakeup last November came as a surprise to observers. In recent years no other prosecutors have made the transition to national politics. In Bashkortostan, Konavalov was in charge of handling the fallout from the police crackdown in Blagoveshchensk in December 2004.

Kommersant on Saturday quoted a Kremlin source as saying that while Kozak and Konovalov were the two main candidates, there were two other possible contenders.

One was Alexei Anichin, who was appointed head of the Interior Ministry's investigations committee in April, Kommersant said. He had previously headed the Northwest Federal District's department for relations with prosecutors.

Another candidate could be Nikolai Vinnichenko, head of the Justice Ministry's Federal Court Marshals Service and a former St. Petersburg prosecutor, Kommersant said, citing other unidentified sources.

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said the chamber would most likely vote for a new prosecutor general later this month and would back whomever Putin nominated.