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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK

World: Europe

Stepashin vows to fight economic crime

Mr Stepashin (left) said tax fraud would be "a crime against the country itself"

President Boris Yeltsin's choice for Russian prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, has pledged to step up the fight against crime and corruption in the economy.

Russia crisis
Outlining his policies to the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, Mr Stepashin promised tougher measures against tax evasion, which he said would be treated as "a crime against the country itself".

Mr Stepashin is seeking support ahead of a vote on his nomination in the lower house, the Duma, on Wednesday.

Correspondents say his chances of approval have been boosted by reports that the three largest groups in the Duma, including the Communists, are ready to accept his appointment.

President Yeltsin angered MPs last week by sacking his popular prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov. However the Duma turned down an opportunity to impeach the president at the weekend.

President Yeltsin formally nominated Mr Stepashin as his new prime minister a day after escaping impeachment.

'The guilty will be punished'

In his speech to the Federation Council, Mr Stepashin pledged to bolster the government's revenues with a plan to repatriate "the billions of dollars ... that have illegally left Russia".

People guilty of tax fraud would be "severely punished", he said.

[ image: Yevgeny Primakov was sacked last week]
Yevgeny Primakov was sacked last week
He warned that crime, corruption and theft were ruining the state's efforts to rescue Russia's battered economy.

He said: "The standard of living has fallen while capital is invested abroad."

Mr Stepashin also said that all undertakings made by Mr Primakov's government to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "will be respected on condition that the Duma approves the laws presented to it by the government".

The Russian Government is desperate for new IMF loans, but the Fund has said it will only release the money if unpopular economic legislation is pushed through parliament.

The would-be prime minister also offered to set up an economic council to discuss policy with regional chiefs, saying "all government decisions will be submitted to regional leaders for approval".

Among the other main planks of Mr Stepashin's economic reform are to:

  • Increase budget revenues by mobilising internal resources
  • Revive the banking system
  • Support domestic industry
  • Give regions equal conditions for economic development
  • Provide investment incentives
  • Legalise the shadow economy

President v Duma

Wednesday's vote on Mr Stepashin will be Mr Yeltsin's second battle with the Duma within a week, although Russian and foreign leaders have expressed hope that the crisis will start to ease.

If Mr Stepashin is rejected three times, Mr Yeltsin must dissolve the Duma and call fresh elections.

[ image:  ]
Approval had seemed nearly impossible last week, but some politicians now say Mr Stepashin could be confirmed.

Sergei Baburin, a hardline Duma MP, said the nomination had "more pluses than minuses". He urged the Duma to act "in the interests of the country's stability and economic rebirth".

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a favourite to succeed Mr Yeltsin when his term expires next year, said: "Stepashin isn't the worst of the possible candidates."

Former prime minister and Balkan envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin said Mr Stepashin should be confirmed quickly so the government could start work on the economic and social problems as soon as possible.

The failure of the impeachment vote had boosted Mr Stepashin's chances, said Alexei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic faction in the Duma.

Mr Stepashin is expected to outline his agenda to opposition parties on Tuesday.

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