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Russian justice minister steps aside in growing scandal

June 21, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ Suggesting that photographs of him with scantily clad women were fake, Russia’s justice minister stepped aside Saturday to defend himself against the growing scandal, news agencies reported.

Valentin Kovalyov also has been accused of taking bribes from the head of a Moscow bank, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Kovalyov, a 53-year-old former communist lawmaker, said he intended to return to his post after clearing his name. In his letter of resignation, he said the reports were ``based on insinuations and aimed at discrediting my official status.″

Photographs published in the tabloid Sovershenno Secretno, or Top Secret, appear to show him in the sauna of a mafia hangout.

The photographs were taken from a videotape, parts of which were shown on Russian television Saturday. The videotape seems to show Kovalyov naked in a large, whirlpool-style bath with two nude women.

``Every specialist knows very well that modern technologies, including computer techniques, make it possible to put a person into any environment and situation,″ Kovalyov said.

Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov said investigators are trying to determine whether the photographs are authentic, ITAR-Tass said.

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin called Kovalyov back from a trip to Sweden on Friday after the photos were published. A spokesman for Chernomyrdin said the prime minister considered Kovalyov’s temporary resignation ``adequate to the situation,″ ITAR-Tass said.

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