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Russian Lawmaker Resigns Over Property Scandal

Russian President Putin, right, greets leaders in the outgoing lower house of parlament — Pekhtin is fifth from left — the Kremlin, Moscow, Dec. 11, 2003.
Vladimir Pekhtin, former head of the Russian parliament’s ethics committee, resigned Wednesday following allegations by opposition whistle-blower Alexei Navalny that the Kremlin-friendly deputy holds undisclosed luxury property in Florida.

The news broke amid a Kremlin anti-corruption drive aimed at countering the poor image of Russian officials. Pekhtin, a member of the ruling United Russia party, tendered his resignation after Navalny published documents on a blog that appeared to prove Pekhtin owns the undeclared real estate. While Russian officials are not prohibited from owning property abroad, they must officially disclose any real estate assets in their possession. Pekhtin who last week stepped down as chief of the ethics committee has said the property belongs to his son.

In a speech before Russia’s lower house of parliament Wednesday, Pekhtin again denied any wrongdoing but said he was resigning from the legislature to prevent opponents from slandering his party.

If verified, the news would prove embarrassing to a party that has long sought to battle an image cultivated by Russia’s street opposition, which casts United Russia as a party of “swindlers and thieves” — a term coined by Navalny.

As part of the Kremlin’s ongoing drive against internal corruption, President Vladimir Putin last year voiced support for rooting out official graft and repatriating large sums of money held abroad by Russian bureaucrats. Last week, he submitted a draft law that would ban Russian officials from holding foreign bank accounts.

It was not clear Wednesday whether Pekhtin resigned voluntarily or under Kremlin pressure.

Last November, Putin removed Anatoly Serdyukov as defense minister after Serdyukov, also a former tax minister and private-sector businessman, was implicated in a major corruption scandal.

Meanwhile, Navalny — one of the street opposition's main leaders — himself faces several criminal charges, which he claims is political payback for his activism.