Dmitry Ayatskov, governor of Saratov Region, asserted his innocence today in the so-called 'Case case.' In a meeting with reporters, Ayaktskov rebutted accusations by the region's Prosecutor's Office that he improperly used official funds to pay customs duties for certain JICase combines in 1998. He has been accused, under Section 3, Article 286 of the Criminal Code, of exceeding his legal authority. In his own defense, Ayatskov referred to the regional Duma's adoption on December 27, 2002, of a bill amending the region's budget for 2002.
The charges against the governor, announced by prosecutor Anatoly Bondar, accuse Ayatskov of misusing approximately USD 2.3 million. Last Thursday evening, investigators working on the matter removed documents from government offices. The combines are now the property of a private company, Agroton. Bondar said a Saratov regional court and a higher court in Kazan had both found the dealings unlawful. Earlier, the prosecutor's office had brought similar charges in the matter against Sergey Shuvalov, the former regional deputy governor and current speaker of the regional Duma.
In August 1998 the Saratov regional government acquired 20 Case combines in this way: The financial crisis of August 17, 1998, and the sudden surge in the dollar made it impossible for a private company, Regional Food Corporation, for whom the combines were intended, to pay the customs duties on them (USD 7.3 million). The regional government then took on that responsibility itself, with Shuvalov signing the requisite papers. However, the government did not pay the duties, and by the end of 2001, the customs charges had risen to USD 8 million, almost 5% of the regional budget. Charges against Shuvalov for exceeding his authority were brought in January 2002, the Prosecutor's Office contending that Shuvalov acted without permission from the regional Duma. In September 2002 Shuvalov was elected to the regional Duma and thus gained immunity against prosecution. In December 2002 the Saratov regional court ruled that the former deputy governor's actions were not criminal.
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18