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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Abramovich region found bankrupt
Roman Abramovich
Abramovich has been governor of Chukotka since 2000
Russia's auditing chamber has said that the far-eastern region governed by tycoon and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich is in effect bankrupt.

Auditor Sergey Ryabukhin said on Friday that the region of Chukotka had debts of more than $300m, two-and-a-half times its budget revenue.

The audit also revealed financial irregularities in the budget to the tune of $52m, Mr Ryabukhin said.

Mr Abramovich is Russia's second richest man.

Thought to be worth $12.5bn, he is a major shareholder in Russian oil giant Sibneft.

Correspondents say Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned up the heat in recent months on Russia's oligarchs, the half-dozen tycoons who control most of the country's choicest assets.

Correspondents say the tycoon appears to be preparing to pull his remaining assets out of Russia. Mr Abramovich has already said he will not stand for re-election in Chukotka, which is just across the Bering Strait from Alaska

'Tax breaks'

Mr Ryabukhin said Mr Abramovich had described the remote region as bankrupt when he become governor in 2000, but since then had failed to extricate it from this state.

Interfax news agency quoted the auditor as saying that the region had given tax breaks of 13.7bn roubles ($472m), most of which went to Sibneft.

A representative of the region told Itar-Tass news agency that half of the technical mistakes found by the auditors had already been put right and the other half would be dealt with in the next month.

But he said all funds had been spent on the needs of the region and its residents "in accordance with their designation".

Mr Ryabukhin said the report would be passed on to the prosecutor-general's office, and that it would "draw final conclusions" into the affair.

He said Mr Abramovich's administration in Chukotka already appeared to be tackling the problems, which the auditor said was evidence of a fast and proper response to his report.


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