Book Fees Causing Russian Scandal
MOSCOW (AP) _ Once again, fees paid to Russian officials for a book on privatization are raising controversy and suspicion of high-level corruption.
Parliament voted unanimously Thursday to ask the prosecutor general’s office to investigate a publishing deal that paid $90,000 to each of seven co-authors, including major reformers in the government.
The authors include First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russian privatization, and Alfred Kokh, the government’s former privatization chief who also is under investigation for a privatization book of his own.
At issue is whether the men who have presided over the sale of prized state companies have received improper book fees through connections with a large commercial bank that has been a winning bidder in privatization sales.
Chubais defended the book deal and accused opposition lawmakers in the State Duma, parliament’s lower house, of raising the issue in an attempt to derail discussion of the 1998 budget.
Chubais said the book, ``The History of Russian Privatization,″ has been written and that each of the authors has received $90,000. But each author, he said, was donating 95 percent of the fee to the Fund for Private Property Protection, a charity set up by reformers.
Both books, as yet unpublished, have been linked to Oneximbank, a Russian financial giant that won control over some of the country’s largest companies when they were privatized.
The Moscow city prosecutor opened a criminal investigation Oct. 1 into a $100,000 payment to Kokh by a Swiss company connected to Oneximbank. No charges have been filed, and both Kokh and Oneximbank have denied any wrongdoing.
When Kokh was removed in August, President Boris Yeltsin criticized him for being too close to certain banks, a comment widely interpreted as a reference to Oneximbank.
Fees for the book by Chubais and other senior privatization officials were paid by the Russian publisher Segodnya-Press, which is partly owned by an Oneximbank affiliate.