Ministerial 'rich list' provokes fury in Russia

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The Independent Online

The Kremlin has been embarrassed by the publication of a "rich list" of government ministers which reveals that one minister earned £4.2m last year - more than two thousand times the national average.

The list, which was based on ministers' own declarations of income and property ownership, showed that Yuri Trutnev, the Natural Resources Minister, earned 211m roubles in 2005. The average annual salary is just £1,920.

Furthermore, the list was published just two days after President Vladimir Putin solemnly told the nation that closing the gap between the rich and the poor was his biggest task.

In a television appearance on Wednesday, a stony-faced Mr Putin told viewers that he found it "shameful" to even pronounce how much the average monthly pension is: 3,100 roubles (£62).

The timing of the list is therefore awkward for the Kremlin and will give ammunition to the Russian Communist Party, who have said that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider.

Under a 1997 law, government ministers are not obliged to disclose how they earn their money, but they are duty-bound to declare how much they earn. In the case of Mr Trutnev, the bulk of his earnings clearly stem from non-government work, as ministerial salaries are only in the thousands.

Mr Putin's income was not included on the rich list, but he is known to draw an annual salary of about £520,000, 270 times the national average.

The declared income of other ministers was not in Mr Trutnev's league, but was still in a different world as far as ordinary Russians are concerned.

For example, Leonid Reiman, the Telecommunications Minister, was shown to have made about £220,000 last year. He also owns five apartments. Russian commentators joked that with his five flats, Mr Reiman was unlikely to find himself on the streets at a time when the government is pushing through an "accessible housing" programme to help people borrow money - at an average interest rate of 11 per cent - to buy their first flat.

The list also comes after eyebrows were raised by the burglary of a Moscow apartment occupied by Lyubov Sliska, the deputy speaker of parliament. Though she officially earns less than £1,059 a month, she is reported to have told police that she had property worth £260,000 stolen, prompting some to ask how she managed to accrue such wealth.

To compound the have-nots' discomfort, Moscow's annual "Millionaire Fair" - an ostentatious display of luxury goods - opened yesterday. The capital boasts 25 dollar billionaires, second only to New York, while the country as a whole has an estimated one hundred thousand dollar millionaires eager to show their compatriots that they have really "arrived".

But the Communist MP Viktor Ilyukhin commented recently: "We need such fairs so that we can place snipers near by and shoot their visitors as parasites. None of them earned their money honestly. Such events are sheer savagery."