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#10 - JRL 7135
The Electronic Telegraph (UK)
April 8, 2003
Russian PM investigated over giant crab quotas
By Ben Aris in Moscow

Russia's prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, is being investigated over a multi-million pound fishing corruption scandal involving giant red crabs. He described the prosecutor-general's inquiries as "baseless" yesterday.

Research institutes in Russia are regularly granted small fishing quotas to catch the Kamchatka crabs, also known as giant red crabs, which can reach three feet across, including legs.

Granting additional quotas requires the prime minister's signature, and six months ago Mr Kasyanov approved a 2,200-ton crab quota increase for the Magadan State Fisheries Research Institute.

The institute hired a fishing fleet connected to the regional government to catch the crabs and illegally sold them abroad for 4.1 million.

The crabs are described as Russia's "other caviar" and considered a luxury, especially in Japan, where they sell for 30 a pound.

The Russian press reported that prosecutors had visited Mr Kasyanov's offices and removed several documents, charges denied by the prime minister's White House office.

Mr Kasyanov's spokesman, Tatiyan Razhbash, said yesterday: "No investigators have been to the White House. The prosecutor-general's office requested some documents and they were sent. Mr Kasyanov has made no comment as the charges are baseless."

The fraud came to light as part of an inquiry into the murder of the Magadan governor in Moscow in October.

Vladimir Kolesnikov, the deputy prosecutor-general, said prosecutors had questions for several government officials, including the prime minister. "This case will be pursued to the end and any officials found to be involved in any illegal activities will be brought to justice."

Russia's fisheries ministry is notoriously corrupt. The deputy state fisheries committee chief, Yury Moskaltsov, was charged last month in connection with the case and partly owned the fishing fleet hired to catch the crabs.

Analysts say President Vladimir Putin probably sanctioned the inquiry into his prime minister, but with elections looming, the charges may be politically motivated. The prosecutor-general's office rarely acts independently.

As head of Boris Yeltsin's administration's control department in 1998, Mr Putin investigated corruption in the far eastern fishing industry and submitted evidence to the prosecutor-general's office.

Yevgeny Volk, a political analyst, said: "Nothing happened. There is a vicious circle among those at the top where they protect each other. The amounts of money involved are enough to pay any bribe."

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