Wed, Sep 12, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Russian lawmakers take steps to eject key Kremlin critic

Reuters, MOSCOW

Russian lawmakers said on Monday they had found evidence that a prominent opposition deputy violated curbs on business activity of parliament members, but he denounced their findings as a political reprisal.

A ruling by a State Duma committee based on the evidence paved the way for Gennady Gudkov’s ejection from the lower parliament house in a vote that may be held a day before protests on Saturday against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the ruling United Russia party.

Gudkov, one of the few deputies in the 450-seat Duma to have taken part in opposition protests last winter that were the biggest of Putin’s 12-year rule, says the bid to oust him is politically motivated.

“This is an extrajudicial reprisal. It’s a farce,” Gudkov said, adding that United Russia lawmakers were rushing to vote him out of the Duma before Saturday, when Putin’s opponents want to reignite the street protest movement after a summer lull.

The Duma committee found evidence Gudkov engaged in business activities from which he was barred as a member of parliament, accusations Gudkov denies.

“There are materials proving his systematic and regular occupation with business activity,” said Andrei Vorobyov, head of the Duma’s United Russia faction.

“Our faction supports this decision and the decision to vote for ceasing Mr Gudkov’s mandate,” he said, adding the vote was likely to be held on Friday.

Though much reduced, the United Russia’s 13-seat majority is still enough to vote out Gudkov.

Ejecting Gudkov would strip him of immunity from prosecution. Federal investigators have said there is evidence he conducted illegal business activity and he could face two years in jail if tried and convicted.

Putin’s opponents say the campaign against Gudkov is part of a clampdown on dissent following the longtime leader’s election to a six-year presidential term after four years as prime minister.

Putin has signed laws aimed at restricting street protests, punishing slander and branding foreign-funded NGOs as foreign “agents” and protest leader Alexei Navalny has been charged with a financial crime carrying a prison term of up to 10 years.

In an attempt to fight back, Gudkov and his son Dmitry, also a lawmaker from the Just Russia party, have published material saying United Russia lawmakers have lucrative business interests.

“I’m not giving up. I will definitely fight,” Gennady Gudkov said, adding that he would attend the protest planned on Saturday in Moscow. “Let them arrest me, let them detain me, let them fabricate other cases against me.”

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