The head of the Russian parliament’s ethics committee, Vladimir Pekhtin© RIA Novosti. Vladimir Fedorenko
MOSCOW, February 20 (RIA Novosti) – The head of the Russian parliament’s ethics committee, Vladimir Pekhtin, gave up his seat on Wednesday amid accusations he owns undeclared properties in the United States.
Opposition figurehead and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny posted documents online earlier this month that he said proved the veteran lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party owned undeclared luxury properties in Miami, Florida worth over $2 million. Pekhtin says the properties belong to his son.
“I have taken the not particularly easy decision to give up my seat,” Pekhtin told the State Duma on Wednesday. “I do not want the shadow of ungrounded accusations to fall on our party.”
The move follows Pekhtin's resignation last week as head of the Duma’s ethics commission.
Parliamentary speaker and fellow United Russia member, Sergei Naryshkin, hailed what he called Pekhtin’s “honest and responsible” move.
Pekhtin, the author of the State Duma’s code of ethics, according to documents published by opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov, said he had “no doubt at all” he would prove his innocence. He later said he would go to the United States in order to do so.
In an apparent contradiction of his denial, Pekhtin admitted the signatures on the property deeds published by Navalny were his, but said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper last week that he "owns practically no property abroad." He then added, “I don’t own any [foreign property] at all! I’ve lived here my whole life, in Russia.”
Navalny, who has branded United Russia as the "party of crooks and thieves," accused Pekhtin of owning two condos in Miami Beach and a villa in Ormond Beach, Florida. He also questioned how Pekhtin could afford the properties.
The anti-corruption crusader, who is facing up to ten years behind bars on fraud charges he calls politically motivated, also accused Pekhtin last week of seeking to build a life for his children and grandchildren in the United States, where “it is safe [and] the courts and the police operate normally.”
“Now he can move to Miami and live there peacefully,” Navalny said in a blog post on Wednesday.
The government is currently in the process of introducing legislation which will ban all state officials from owning foreign real estate, bank accounts or stocks and shares. Russian officials are currently allowed to own property abroad, but it must be declared.
More than half of the Russians buying property abroad are officials, real estate agents told the RBC Daily in December.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).