Chechen PM in sauna sex scandal

His public image as a devout Muslim warrior who frets about the morals of Chechnya's peoplehas been carefully constructed by spin doctors. But Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's pro-Moscow Prime Minister, has become ensnared in an embarrassing sex scandal that has made his loud moral preaching appear rather hollow.

The scandalis potentially embarrassing for President Vladimir Putin since the Kremlin has chosen Mr Kadyrov as its point man in the strife-torn republic. Mr Kadyrov's aides have laughed off the grainy video of a man identical in appearance and voice to him in a sauna with two prostitutes, as a "provocation".

True or not, the footage is damaging for the 29-year-old Prime Minister, since he is married with children and has made a name for himself by criticising the media for broadcasting "immoral programmes" and by urging Chechen women to wear headscarves. In recent months he has outlawed gambling, clamped down on alcohol sales and partially introduced Shariah law. He was also recently reported to have issued an order for women's mobile phones to be monitored to ensure that wives are not in contact with ex-boyfriends.

The sauna footage was shot on a mobile phone and first appeared on a Chechen rebel website. The rebels regard Mr Kadyrov as a "phoney Muslim" who is trying to hijack Islam to quell separatist sentiment.

Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian reporter who specialises in Chechnya, has added credibility to the clip's authenticity by claiming that she too has been sent footage of a man identical in appearance to Ramzan.

Her claims go beyond debauched infidelity. She told a website: "On them [the clips] were the murders of federal servicemen by Kadyrovtsy [his private army], and also kidnappings directed by Kadyrov ... On the basis of them, a criminal case and investigation should follow."

But Mr Kadyrov has become too powerful for the Kremlin to remove easily and is expected in time to become the republic's President, a job his father did before he was assassinated. Yesterday he was back on state television - ironically he was talking about a beauty contest he is organising for Chechen girls.