Yeltsin Dismisses Aide in Scandal
MOSCOW (AP) _ President Boris Yeltsin fired a senior aide Friday in a widening scandal over huge fees paid to government insiders for writing books _ payments critics are calling bribes.
Yeltsin dismissed his first deputy chief of staff Alexander Kazakov, one of at least seven government officials who reportedly received $90,000 in advance for a yet-to-be-published book called ``The History of Russian Privatization.″
The payments came from Segodnya-Press, which is partly owned by an affiliate of Oneximbank, one of Russia’s largest banks and a major beneficiary of the privatization program.
Communist members of parliament claim the huge fees for the book were actually bribes. Opposition politicians have asked prosecutors to look into the case.
First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais is among those involved in the book deal. He denied any wrongdoing and said Thursday he and the other authors would donate 95 percent of their fees to a private foundation.
``The fee is high, the criticism is fair and we must accept that,″ Chubais said Friday. ``We will accept any decision the president makes.″
Chubais blamed the attack on financial groups that lost out to Oneximbank in recent privatization auctions. He hinted that the charges were leveled by a journalist backed by financiers Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, two fierce rivals of Oneximbank and Chubais.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politics think tank, said the book scandal was Berezovsky’s revenge for his being ousted last week as deputy secretary of the Security Council.
Speaking to reporters in Novgorod, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised to look into the book controversy. He said the book deal came as a surprise to him and Yeltsin.
The authors make up the bulk of the government’s privatization team.
In addition to Kazakov and Chubais, the authors include Maxim Boiko, privatization chief and deputy prime minister; Boiko’s predecessor Alfred Kokh; Federal Securities Commission chairman Dmitry Vasiliev; Federal Bankruptcy Agency head Pyotr Mostovoi; and Arkady Yevstafiev, a former Chubais aide who now runs a foundation.
Kokh is also under criminal investigation because of a separate book on privatization, for which he received $100,000 in advance from a Swiss company connected to Oneximbank. Both Kokh and Oneximbank have denied any wrongdoing.
Yeltsin’s critics have attacked the government for its privatization program, saying valuable state-owned business have been sold at bargain prices to wealthy bankers with Kremlin contacts.
None of the charges of high-level corruption have led to prosecution.