Investigators launch probe against opposition MP over misspending charges

Russian State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov (RIA Novosti/Maksim Blinov)
The Russian Investigative Committee’s agency for serious crimes has launched a case against MP Ilya Ponomaryov, suspecting him of alleged complicity in the 2013 corruption scandal at the Skolkovo Foundation.

The news was announced Tuesday by the Investigative Committee’s spokesman, Vladimir Markin. He also said that the case dates further back and concerns the 2010 contract under which Ponomaryov received $750,000 for a research paper and several lectures which he only partly delivered.

Tass quoted Markin as saying that starting the criminal case was licensed by the State Duma as required by the Russian law. He also said that, as Ponomaryov currently lives outside the Russian Federation, investigators planned to put him on the international wanted list and demand his extradition.

The corruption scandal mentioned by investigators broke out in early 2013 when law enforcement agencies discovered that one of the senior managers of the Skolkovo Foundation had paid State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov about $750,000 for 10 lectures and one research paper. The MP received the fees but either failed to deliver the promised work completely or executed it very poorly. The politician pleaded not guilty, saying that the fees were fair and proportionate to the amount of work done.

The probe and subsequent court hearings proved these allegations to be true. Alexey Beltyukov, Vice President of the Skolkovo Foundation, was suspended and a criminal investigation into his case goes on to this day. Ponomaryov was not prosecuted because of his parliamentary immunity but the court ordered him to return the money. After this, Ponomaryov left the country over fears that bailiffs would ban his trips abroad over an unpaid debt. Since then he has been living in the United States.

READ MORE: Skolkovo vice president suspended over graft case

From the very beginning, Ponomaryov claimed that the case against him and his partners in Skolkovo was groundless and revenge for his opposition activities. The MP actively participated in 2011 street protests against alleged violations in parliamentary polls and got expelled from the Fair Russia party – its leaders said that it was not right for any lawmaker to claim that the election was not fair and yet remain in the parliament formed by this very election. However, by law Ponomaryov cannot be stripped of his parliamentary seat without a criminal trial and sentence.

Later, Ponomaryov gained some notoriety by being the only Russian MP who voted against accepting the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation.

After Russian media reported about the State Duma’s plans to hold a vote on Ponomaryov’s immunity, the lawmaker repeatedly stated that he did not intend to return as that would be tantamount to voluntarily going to prison. Currently he lives primarily in the United States and claims that he earns his living through research, public lectures and providing advice to Russian startup companies entering international markets.

In early April, the State Duma almost unanimously voted to have Ponomaryov’s parliamentary immunity lifted. He was the sixth Russian MP to be deprived of his immunity since the last State Duma elections.