Yeltsin tries to sack Skuratov in ongoing political intrigue

Nothing as trivial as a major war in the Balkans can deflect Russian politicians from their passion for intrigue.

Nothing as trivial as a major war in the Balkans can deflect Russian politicians from their passion for intrigue.

In the latest moves in a series of political scandals, President Yeltsin yesterday tried once again to sack Mr Yury Skuratov, the Prosecutor General, who has been examining corruption in the Kremlin, and the multi-millionaire, Mr Boris Berezovsky, was barred from entering Moscow to attend a meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Mr Berezovsky, the country's arch-conspirator, was, until recently, the secretary general of the CIS, but in an imperious gesture he was dismissed by President Yeltsin without consultation with the heads of state of the other CIS countries.

Yesterday he was trying to attend a CIS meeting in Moscow in order to launch an attack on Mr Yeltsin but his private jet, enroute from Paris, was turned away from Moscow and had to fly to Kiev instead. The CIS meeting confirmed his dismissal and appointed Mr Yuri Yarov, the president's representative in the upper house, in his place.

The matter of the Prosecutor General is far more serious and even more bizarre. Mr Skuratov has been investigating an alleged fraud and money-laundering by a Swiss company engaged in construction work in the Kremlin. Each time his investigation makes progress something dramatic happens.

Eight weeks ago he resigned for "health reasons" apparently under pressure from the Kremlin itself. Six weeks ago he made a stunning come-back when the upper-house of parliament, normally a pro-Yeltsin organisation, voted him back into office.

The following evening the State Television channel showed a grainy still taken from a video which appeared to show Mr Skuratov in bed with two prostitutes. Mr Skuratov told the Interfax news agency yesterday that the Kremlin was trying to manufacture a case against him and that Mr Yeltsin's latest attempt to dismiss him was completely illegal.

Undeterred by the videotape scandal, Mr Skuratov pursued his investigations and in an extremely bold move last week sent his agents into the Kremlin itself to remove documents connected with the case. On Thursday he went even further and in a television interview told viewers he had a list of senior state officials who held foreign bank accounts.

It was in the immediate aftermath of this statement that Mr Yeltsin moved to dismiss him and yesterday morning Mr Skuratov found his office sealed off by security forces. The State Duma, the anti-Yeltsin lower house of parliament, passed a motion declaring the dismissal to be illegal.

AFP adds: Communists in the parliament used the issue to link Mr Yeltsin to organised crime: "Yeltsin is openly defending the mafia today," said Mr Viktor Ilyukhin. The party chief, Mr Gennady Zyuganov, added: "He is not capable of fighting corruption because he is a malicious lawbreaker."