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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 11:04 GMT
Russia set to question Abramovich
Roman Abramovich
Mr Abramovich has spurned Russia, critics say
Roman Abramovich, the Russian tycoon who owns Chelsea football club, faces a probe into his dealings in Siberia.

Russia's Audit Chamber, the official government watchdog, is to investigate Mr Abramovich's role as governor of the Arctic province of Chukotka.

The Chamber insisted that the planned checks were routine, and not connected to his purchase of the football club.

But Mr Abramovich has been criticised for his lavish spending, and his apparent lack of interest in Russia.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on a soccer club, while a charity fund for homeless children raised only $1m across the country last year," said Sergei Stepashin, the head of the Audit Chamber.

In the firing line

It has long been rumoured that Mr Abramovich would be put under pressure by the Russian Government.

Under President Vladimir Putin, the state has relentlessly pursued apparent malpractice among the "oligarchs", the class of politically-active billionaires who rose to prominence during the mid-1990s.

Chukotka
The most prominent case was the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man.

Mr Khodorkovsky's oil firm, Yukos, has attempted to merge with Mr Abramovich's Sibneft, a deal that seems to have come off the rails.

Mr Abramovich, who is reputed to have excellent connections in the Kremlin, long seemed to have escaped that sort of attention.

Pulling out

The Audit Chamber's decision may, indeed, be purely routine: it is charged with overseeing the activities of state institutions, including local administrations such as Chukotka.

Mismanagement and corruption are endemic in Russia's far-flung regions, although few concrete allegations have ever been levelled at Mr Abramovich's government in Chukotka - arguably the most isolated and deprived part of the country.

Mr Abramovich has already announced his decision to step down from the Chukotka governorship, part of a steady programme of divesting himself of Russian assets.

Mr Abramovich has sold many of his Russian investments, and has invested heavily overseas, especially in the UK, where he spends much of his time.

This has exposed him to criticism from many elements in Russia, who have long argued that the oligarchs did not have the country's best interests at heart.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Damian Gramaticas
"Mr Abramovitch's spokesman said the oligarch had nothing to hide"



SEE ALSO:
Yukos seeks to rescue oil merger
29 Jan 04  |  Business
Yukos and Sibneft to end merger
17 Dec 03  |  Business
Yukos denies unpaid tax report
02 Dec 03  |  Business
Russian MP guns for Abramovich firm
04 Nov 03  |  Business
Russian businessman buys Chelsea
02 Jul 03  |  Business


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