Russian minister resigns as corruption scandal bites deeper

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MOSCOW - Russia's foreign trade minister has resigned, declaring himself the victim of a push for power by mafia bands, as a corruption scandal begins to eat into the heart of Boris Yeltsin's government.

The Minister for Foreign Economic Relations, Sergei Glazyev, 32, was summoned back to Moscow in mid- flight on Friday night, hours after leaving on a five-nation African tour. He resigned on Saturday, the second minister to go in two days. Appointed in December, he denied accusations by a presidential commission of chaos and graft in his department.

'We are deciding what to do with a number of ministers,' the head of the presidential administration's control department, Alexei Ilyushenko said, hinting at more departures. 'If things continue like this Russia may well turn into some kind of banana republic with coups, corruption, a complete lack of understanding between the branches of power,' he said.

In his resignation letter, Mr Glazyev accused the Justice Minister, Yuri Kalmykov, and a First Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Shumeiko, himself under investigation for alleged corruption, of hounding him from office. Mr Glazyev told the Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, that he had made enemies by recently introducing new regulations cutting the number of firms allowed licences to export oil and metals. 'Opposition turned into open persecution of myself . . .,' he said.

Russia has lost, at the very least, millions of dollars through the illicit exporting of metals and oil below world prices. Lucrative, well-organised deals have spawned fortunes that have inevitably brought political influence in a country of low-paid officials. Behind it all, Mr Glazyev said, was 'the struggle for power of mafia bands, feeling their interests threatened by the actions of the ministry bringing order to foreign economic activity'.

But the Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, condemned Mr Glazyev's allegations. 'At a time when we need more than ever consolidation in the presidential and government structures such talk of infighting in the government . . . is deeply regrettable'.

Mr Glazyev's departure came a day after the Information Minister, Mikhail Fedotov, resigned, accusing parliament of moving to take control of the media.

Three automatic-rifle shots were fired early yesterday at a Moscow building housing the Information Ministry and a senior presidential aide. The shots hit windows on the second floor where the offices of Mr Fedotov and the aide, Mikhail Poltoranin, are situated.