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Russian privatization chief quits

August 13, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia’s privatization chief quit Wednesday in the face of mounting criticism and suspicions surrounding the sale of coveted state assets.

Alfred Kokh, deputy prime minister and chairman of the State Property Committee, will be replaced in both posts by Maxim Boiko, who has served as President Boris Yeltsin’s deputy chief of staff, the Kremlin said.

Yeltsin accepted Kokh’s resignation and praised him for his efforts ``in one of the most difficult areas of government activity,″ said presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Kokh has been harshly criticized for recent sales of state property, which losing bidders said were rigged. He and other senior officials have insisted the sales were fair.

But government agencies and the Central Bank are examining the legality of some of the sales, especially last month’s sale of 25 percent of the telecommunications monopoly Svyazinvest _ the largest privatization deal yet in Russia.

Oneximbank, one of Russia’s largest commercial banks, led a consortium that won with a $1.88 billion bid. The consortium also includes financier George Soros, who put up $980 million, and investment banks Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and Morgan Stanley.

Analysts said Kokh’s removal isn’t likely to scuttle any recent deals, but it could mean upcoming sales are more competitive, fetching higher prices for the cash-strapped federal government.

``Kokh was a generally weak privatization chief,″ said Charles Blitzer, chief economist for Eastern Europe at Donaldson Lufkin and Jenrette.

``My sense is that Boiko believes in openness, competition and fairness,″ he told AP-Dow Jones. ``This is potentially good news.″

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