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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Siloviki face-off

When Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and his rival, Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin, got called in for a sitdown with President Dmitry Medvedev last week, the meeting was allegedly called to protect Chaika's son, Artyom, from being publicly dragged into an escalating scandal.

FSB HeadquartersAccording to some versions of that meeting, it worked ­ Medvedev reportedly warned both officials against using relatives as hostages, and told them to keep their squabbles private.

That Kremlin meeting on March 31 will likely ease the pressure on Chaika's son, Artyom, who the Investigative Committee said it was questioning last week after a leak implicated him in the gambling investigation, Kommersant reported citing sources in the Investigative Committee as saying. It may also mean that fewer heads will roll among senior prosecutors.

But the bigger battle ­ between Chaika's Prosecutor General's Office and Alexander Bastrykin's equally powerful Investigative Committee ­ doesn't look likely to abate until a decision is made about whether Chaika's five-year term as prosecutor general will be extended beyond June. If Medvedev replaces Chaika, the post could go to a close ally of the president's, analysts say.

The smaller battle over the ultimate fate of Ivan Nazarov, a businessman arrested in February on charges of running an underground casino in the Moscow region, still rages. While he is being held in the FSB's Lefortovo pre-trial detention centre on fraud charges, investigators also seek to charge him with attempting to extort $2 million from the head of the Serpukhov district administration, Alexander Shestun.

But the numerous twists and turns in the cases surrounding Nazarov mean even the lawyers involved are losing track of how many times investigators have launched cases, prosecutors have overturned them, and Shestun has appealed the prosecutors' decisions.

"We're not being told about what's going on," Nazarov's lawyer Yekaterina Pavlovskaya told The Moscow News. "I have asked the investigator what the state of affairs is. He says that as of now there are no other criminal cases other than the fraud charge of Feb. 15" (relating to an illegal slot machine club in the town of Pushkino).

Pavlovskaya denied that Nazarov was involved in the slot machines racket. "He has a restaurant business and a construction business," she said, adding there was no evidence that Nazarov had been involved any gambling business since a federal ban came into effect in July 2009.

The charge of extortion "has been cancelled by prosecutors, and Shestun has gone to contest [the cancellation] in court ­ that's his right. Last time the court ruled in his favour and overturned the cancellation. We don't know what will happen now."

Shestun, speaking just after a court hearing on Wednesday, told The Moscow News he was "100 per cent certain that the next hearing April 12 will rule in our favour," to have extortion charges brought against Nazarov. Pavlovskaya insists that her client is being used in a bigger fight between the two agencies.

"Everything is about giving evidence against prosecutors. They are demanding information about city prosecutors, regional prosecutors, and about Artyom Chaika," she said. "The investigators told us directly when the charges were brought: testify, and we will release you."

Nazarov's colleagues, including a woman named Alla Guseva, are also being pressured to testify. "No one knows what to do, what to say."

Friendly chats

Investigators say that Nazarov used his close connections with regional prosecutors to form a protection racket that tried to extort money from Shestun.

"Nazarov, who knew about pending law enforcement checks against ... Shestun, in 2009 demanded 62 million roubles [over $2 million] to get the checks to stop," Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying on March 22, when it tried to launch an extortion case against Nazarov for the second time.

But according to Shestun, the investigation, the court hearings, and even the President's intervention haven't stopped the checks that local prosecutors are still conducting against him ­ in retaliation. "[Serpukhov Prosecutor Oleg] Bazylyan is still turning us inside out from morning till night," Shestun told The Moscow News on Wednesday. "He's blocked all activity at the administration, with all these searches and interrogations. There were searches last week. He's still digging something [up] on me."

Bazylan was implicated in the case along with Moscow Region deputy prosecutor Alexander Ignatenko, and head of the 15th directorate Dmitry Urumov. In February, reports appeared that Ignatenko and other prosecutors went on expensive trips to Italy paid for by Nazarov, and were pictured dancing with Nazarov.

Shestun described at least 20 meetings in which Nazarov and other prosecutors asked him for money to ensure there were no checks against him.

"At first these were friendly meetings. Then they got their friend Oleg Bazylyan involved, and the friendship turned to extortion," Shestun said. "They wanted money to stop criminal cases being launched against me. A so-called krysha."

Prosecutors quoted by Kommersant said the meetings had taken place, but were perfectly legal. "All conversations with Shestun only involved the prosecution checks, and when Shestun asked to help them solve the problem, they insisted that their decision must be carried out within the law," the newspaper quoted a source in the agency as saying.

Intrigue to come

With a hearing scheduled for Tuesday April 12 due to decide whether Nazarov will be charged additionally for extortion, the legal back-and-forth looks set to continue for months.

But experts said that the scale of the scandal went far beyond a casino ring.

"Nazarov is closely connected with Artyom Chaika, and the aim is to use him to implicate the son of the prosecutor general," Stanislav Belkovsky, an independent political analyst, told The Moscow News. And Artyom Chaika's "influence at the agency is comparable to that of the deputy prosecutor general," he said.

While Chaika was connected to a group of Kremlin insiders who backed Medvedev's presidential nomination, there wasn't a close personal connection between Chaika and Medvedev, Belkovsky said

"Especially since there are a number of Medvedev's supporters who'd like Chaika's post," Belkovsky said. "Like Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov. These are all Medvedev's classmates from the university days, and of course they're closer to him than Chaika is. So there will be a lot of intrigue behind the choice."

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