Yeltsin killed man in 'drunken hit and run', biographer claims

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The Independent Online

Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically elected leader, has been accused of killing a man in a drunken hit-and-run accident when in power and of ordering his aides to cover it up.

Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically elected leader, has been accused of killing a man in a drunken hit-and-run accident when in power and of ordering his aides to cover it up.

The incident, which is alleged to have taken place in the early 1990s, is detailed in an updated biography of Russia's first post-Soviet president written by his former top aide and senior bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov.

Mr Korzhakov's book, Boris Yeltsin: From Dawn to Dusk, was published in 1997 but a new chapter containing the damaging new allegations has been added recently.

Now a deputy in the Russian parliament, Mr Korzhakov enjoyed unrivalled access to Mr Yeltsin and his secrets during his rocky 1991-1999 presidency, acting as his closest adviser for much of it. The two men fell out in 1996 when Mr Korzhakov was fired from his post as head of the presidential security service in a power struggle for the ailing president's ear.

Since then, he has had no qualms about revealing the colourful details of Mr Yeltsin's self-confessed alcohol problem, but these latest claims appear to be more serious. Bizarrely, they also appear to incriminate Mr Korzhakov, since he claims he was the aide who covered up the scandal.

He says the accident took place after the men had been drinking at a banya [bath house] in rural Russia. "Boris Nikolayevich ... simply wanted to go for a drive, to practise driving a car," he writes.

"[But] as bad luck would have it, there was a Zhiguli [a type of car] and a motorcycle on the country road about 500 metres from the village in those early hours." The driver of the car was talking through an open door to the motorcyclist.

Mr Korzhakov claims that his drunken boss mixed up the accelerator and the brake in his alcohol-fuelled stupor, hit both pedals, and that the motorcyclist received serious wounds from which he later died.

"We bought [him] medicine and changed doctors and hospitals [to cover the tracks] but after six months he died. We buried him as well since he did not have any close relatives."

"Yeltsin never asked about the killed man. Maybe he had no time - he was dying to become the guarantor of the constitution. This was his first victim for the sake of democracy."

Mr Korzhakov, 54, says that the car's owner never reported the accident to police, had his damaged vehicle expertly repaired and that, thanks to Mr Korzhakov, nobody found out what had happened. "The situation was wired - Russia's hope was drunk and scared behind the wheel and nearby was a damaged car and injured motorcyclist."

Asked recently by the Moscow Times when and where the incident took place, he would only say "in a certain small village" in the early 1990s. Other remarks suggest it was 1991.

Mr Yeltsin, now 73 and retired, has so far not responded but has denied other claims made by Mr Korzhakov in the past, dismissing them as the rantings of an embittered former confidant. Mr Korzhakov, a former KGB employee, worked for Mr Yeltsin for 11 years and was claimed to be the power behind the throne. He claims that he used to water down his boss's vodka.

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