Russia's embattled chief prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, struggling desperately to save his job, charged today that he was being dumped in order to prevent him from pursuing corruption allegations against President Boris Yeltsin and his family. The upper house of parliament voted to keep him in the post, for now.
"The masks have been cast off and the situation has become as simple as it can be," Skuratov said of Yeltsin in a pleading, angry address to the Federation Council, the upper chamber, which is made up of regional deputies.
The secret ballot, 52 for dismissal and 98 against, was the third time the chamber has voted against dismissing Skuratov and was yet another rebuff to Yeltsin, who has tried repeatedly to get rid of him.
Skuratov is currently suspended and has been increasingly outspoken about Kremlin corruption in hopes of winning his job back. His case is also being examined by the Constitutional Court, which has yet to rule.
Today, Skuratov's charges reached a new peak as he pointed a finger directly at Yeltsin, referring to previous disclosures that Swiss authorities are investigating evidence that Yeltsin and his daughters used credit cards paid for by a construction company that had a Kremlin restoration contract.
Skuratov declared that "the information about the complicity of the president and his family in corruption" and other recent allegations show that "the question . . . of my resignation really revolves around the personal interest of the president and his family."
As in the past, Skuratov skirted details. He acknowledged later in a television interview that Yeltsin is immune from prosecution in a common criminal case. But he claimed that a Kremlin cabal was trying to force him out and that Yeltsin was "obviously defending his personal interests."
The Kremlin fired back, saying "the important post" of prosecutor "cannot be held by a person letting himself be used in a dirty game."
Skuratov is "undermining the prestige of the country," the statement said. Yeltsin, recuperating from the flu, did not personally comment on the case.
Skuratov was considered a weak prosecutor and never managed to win convictions in major corruption cases against high-level Russian officials and businessmen. Then, in March, Russian television broadcast a videotape purporting to show Skuratov cavorting with prostitutes, which Skuratov has called "blackmail."
He was suspended by Yeltsin pending the outcome of a separate criminal case that had been opened against him by a Moscow city prosecutor, apparently at the behest of the Kremlin.
A Federation Council committee concluded in a report this week that "at the present time there is not sufficient evidence giving grounds to charge Skuratov with the accusation of exceeding the powers of his office."
After the video was aired, Skuratov began to reveal details of sensitive cases he had been probing, including the channeling of Russia's foreign currency reserves to an obscure offshore firm, and allegations of corruption among Yeltsin aides.
Some political observers believe that Skuratov is also being used in Moscow's increasingly nasty political wars by forces close to Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has repeatedly tried to make an issue of Kremlin corruption.
But Skuratov said it was the Kremlin that was trying to silence him because of the coming elections.
Meanwhile, Russian and Swiss prosecutors met today in St. Petersburg to discuss cooperation and pledged afterward to pursue a number of high-profile criminal cases, but the Swiss said they were encountering delays in sending materials to their Russian counterparts.