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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Construction Firm Called Extremist

Prior to the adoption of a bill on extremism last month, human rights activists had worried that the first targets would be outspoken opposition groups and media organizations. But now it looks like it might be bricklayers and cement mixers.

Senior environmental official Oleg Mitvol said Friday that he would seek to have a construction firm that resisted his attempts to carry out an inspection classified as extremist under the new law and have its property confiscated.

"I sent a letter today to the Prosecutor General's Office, asking it to determine whether the actions of the company Kievskaya Ploshchad are extremist," said Mitvol, deputy head of the Federal Service for the Inspection of Natural Resources Use.

"If it is qualified as such, I will bring the case to court," he said by telephone.

The announcement is certain to stir up worries among rights activists, who had repeatedly warned that the new legislation was vaguely worded and open to broad interpretation. The legislation -- roundly criticized by the activists as a way of empowering officials to silence opposition politicians and the media -- broadly defines as extremist any violent and threatening action that impedes the lawful activities of officials.

President Vladimir Putin signed the bill into law in late July, and it goes into effect Wednesday.

Mitvol's complaint comes after he and two lawmakers were barred on July 11 from entering the guarded perimeter of the Yevropeisky shopping center, which is being built next to Kievsky Station. Kievskaya Ploshchad is overseeing the construction, and it and the shopping center are owned by Zarakh Iliyev, a media-shy Azeri retail tycoon who was named Moscow's largest commercial landlord by the Russian edition of Forbes magazine in February.

Mitvol was accompanied on his visit by Alexander Khinshtein, the State Duma deputy and muckraking journalist; and Sergei Mitrokhin, a liberal deputy from the Moscow City Duma.

The trio visited the construction site to check whether builders were observing environmental regulations.

They were not let in, even when a group of police officers arrived to help at their request, Mitvol and Khinshtein said. Guards and builders pushed the officials out and even slammed a door on Khinshtein's fingers, they said.

In June, Khinshtein wrote a critical article about the project in Moskovsky Komsomolets.

In his capacity as deputy, he sent a letter to the Prosecutor General's Office warning that the construction might lead to the collapse of the nearby Kievskaya metro station.

Mitvol said Kievskaya Ploshchad lacked the proper environmental clearances for construction.

He made a similar claim at the beginning of the year and tried to get the project called off.

Repeated calls to Kievskaya Ploshchad's offices went unanswered Friday.

In several interviews in June and July, Kievskaya Ploshchad head Vladislav Novikov maintained that his company had all the needed documentation and dismissed suggestions that the construction threatened the metro station.

Mitvol said that if a court were to determine that Kievskaya Ploshchad was an extremist organization, its property would be confiscated.

Once an unknown businessman, Mitvol came into the spotlight in 2003 when he helped wrest control of the Noviye Izvestia daily from businessman Boris Berezovsky, who now lives in asylum in London. He later joined the federal environmental agency and embarked on headline-grabbing crusades that have included the razing of private riverside houses in the Moscow region.

Asked whether he believed he would win his challenge against Kievskaya Ploshchad, Mitvol said, "I love to read laws, and I believe they will start working one day."

Mitrokhin, the deputy head of Yabloko, could not be immediately reached for comment.

But he condemned the extremism legislation in June, saying it would make it more difficult for opposition parties to run in State Duma elections in 2007.

"They would cause us a lot of trouble because we are not planning to give up our oppositional rhetoric," he said in an interview at the time. "In addition, our leaflets could be called extremist."

Khinshtein was debating Friday whether to join Mitvol in his effort to label the construction firm as extremist, his office said.