One of Russia's richest men accused the Kremlin yesterday of deliberately replacing delegates at his opposition party conference with "doubles" as part of an effort to sabotage his nascent political career.
Oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov claimed the Kremlin was trying to destroy his leadership of the liberal political party and vowed that he would not step down from the post. Cynics, however, suggested that the incident is being artificially manufactured from within the Kremlin to make the party seem more independent than it really is.
Forbes magazine says that Mr Prokhorov is the third richest man in Russia, with an estimated wealth of more than £11bn, acquired mainly in metals and mining. He also owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team.
Mr Prokhorov, 46, took over in June as head of Right Cause, a political party with a broadly liberal, pro-business agenda, and at the same time said he was relinquishing control of his business interests. "Today, there has been an attempt to make a raider's seizure of the Right Cause political party," Mr Prokhorov told a group of journalists in his central Moscow office yesterday afternoon.
The oligarch named Rady Khabirov, an official in the presidential administration of Dmitry Medvedev, as being behind the attempt to seize control. He said that 21 "doubles" of official delegates had arrived at the conference with false papers, and the real delegates had not been admitted. The conference started without his presence or permission, he said.
The aspiring politician signed a decree dismissing the entire executive committee of the party and promised that he would not give any ground. There was applause in the room from delegates present. "This evening I will talk with my colleagues and tomorrow we will try to work out exactly who is behind this," said Mr Prokhorov.
As always in the opaque world of Russian politics, nothing is quite clear. All the major political parties in Russia are "directed" from inside the Kremlin, and there is a broad consensus that Right Cause was set up not to offer real, robust opposition to the government but instead to be a "controlled opposition" force that would attract businessmen and intelligentsia who had become disenchanted with the tedious world of Russian politics. Now, rumours are circulating that the dispute is an elaborately contrived piece of theatre intended to prove to voters that Mr Prokhorov is a genuinely independent politician and not a Kremlin stooge.
Mr Prokhorov yesterday denied the allegation, as did other Right Cause delegates.
Lebedev sues security services over bank raid
The Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev has decided to take on an unusual opponent in the Russian courts – the FSB security services. The businessman, who is the backer of The Independent, wants damages of 350m roubles (£7.3m) from the FSB, claiming that a masked raid on his National Reserve Bank last November caused damage to the bank's reputation.
The lawsuit names a Captain Volotovsky of the directorate, who authored a report that gave the green light to the raid. The bank's lawyers say that the asset-stripping allegations against it, which prompted the raid, have been disproved.
Mr Lebedev is suing Directorate K, a murky, opaque branch of the FSB that deals with economic crime. Critics have suggested that the directorate is itself involved in various fraudulent schemes. Mr Lebedev has said that the raid was either an attempt to put pressure on him for his political activities, or just a crude attempt to extort money.
The FSB have not commented on the case, but Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper which Mr Lebedev part owns, says it has seen the security service's evidence to the court, where it denies the raid could have had a negative impact on the bank's reputation.
The case is being heard by the Moscow arbitration court.