The anti-American head of the Russian Duma’s ethics committee quit his seat today after a leading anti-corruption blogger revealed his secret property acquisitions – in the United States.
Ruling party deputy Vladimir Pekhtin resigned after Alexei Navalny (above), a leading figure in Russia’s opposition, accused him of failing to declare his ownership of properties in Florida.
Last week, Navalny posted photographs and records showing Pekhtin’s name on deeds to two condos in Miami Beach and another in Ormond Beach.
“Pekhtin, 52, officially found himself in trouble not because he owned property in Florida — there’s no law against that — but because he had not listed it on the annual declaration required of government officials. That, undoubtedly, would have been too politically incorrect,” the Washington Post reports:
He had listed an income of $72,000 a year, along with $5,500 for his wife. Together, according to the declaration, they owned property including two large apartments, two houses, six large parcels of land, a Porsche Cayenne, a Toyota Land Cruiser, three Mercedes, a snowmobile and jet ski. All of it was in Russia, where people often seem to own vast quantities of property on small salaries.
Navalny has been a major Kremlin irritant for the last two years. He started calling United Russia the Party of Crooks and Thieves, a name that has stuck among the opposition-minded. The authorities have fought back against his anti-corruption campaign and popularity. Three charges of fraud have been brought against him recently. His supporters call the charges politically motivated, but he risks up to 10 years in prison.
The episode is an embarrassment to President Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party which have made anti-Americanism a prominent theme in regime rhetoric. Putin has consistently accused overseas-funded non-governmental groups of acting as “foreign agents.”
“Navalny has manifestly put Pekhtin, the ruling party, and the Kremlin in an extremely uncomfortable position,” political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote recently on Politcom.ru.
At a time when the Kremlin has pledged to crack down on corruption, it has exposed Putin’s inability — or unwillingness — to police top officials, RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore adds. And at a time when the authorities are branding NGOs who receive funding from abroad as “foreign agents,” one of the top lawmakers in the country is secretly holding multimillion-dollar properties abroad.
“If Aleksey Navalny has ferreted out published documents, the Russian security services are also perfectly capable of probing officials with regard to their exclusive loyalty to the Russian Federation,” Stanovaya wrote, adding that Putin apparently “does not have sufficient resources to move against the bureaucracy.”
The exposé is also likely to intensify what one analysis characterizes as deepening disarray among the elites as Russia’s self-isolation progresses.