The Russian Investigative Committee intends to press charges against Ilya Ponomarev, State Duma Deputy from Just Russia, in connection with an investigation of payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars made to him by the Skolkovo Fund, and plans to strip him of his parliamentary immunity. Vladimir Markin, the official representative of the Investigative Committee told Izvestia that his agency will submit all the necessary materials to the Prosecutor General’s Office in the next few days, which will petition the State Duma to remove Ponomarev’s immunity.
The scandal around Skolkovo broke out in the middle of April, when investigators learned that Alexei Beltyukov, vice president of the Fund, had allegedly unlawfully transmitted $750,000 to Ponomarev from the funds of the innovation center. Ponomarev was supposed to give a number of lectures in different cities for this money, and also write a piece of scholarly research work. Until now, Ponomarev has only figured as a witness in the case. On 16 May, he went to investigators for an interrogation which lasted more than four hours. At that time he informed journalists that he remained a witness. However, the Investigative Committee denies Ponomarev’s statement.
“During the last interrogation, the investigators informed Ponomarev that they intend to open a criminal case against him and obtain the deprivation of his deputy’s immunity,” Vladimir Markin told Izvestia.
The length of time that the entire process of stripping a deputy of his immunity may take is not yet known. Judging from recent experience, this could drag on for several months. The last time the Investigative Committee appealed to the Duma with an analogous petition, it was regarding a Deputy from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Konstantin Shirshov, and another Deputy from Just Russia, Oleg Mikheyev. The investigators sent the documents to the Prosecutor on 26 December of last year. The Prosecutor’s Office took about a month to go through the papers, and on 23 January 2013 announced that the Prosecutor had appealed to the Lower Chamber. For some reason, the documents on Oleg Mikheyev were sent to the Duma somewhat later than the documents on Konstantin Shirshov.
As a result of a vote by the deputies, Shirshov was stripped of his immunity on 13 February, and Mikheyev on 19 February. An indictment was then filed against Shirshov on 19 April; Mikheyev has not yet been indicted.
Ilya Ponomarev told Izvestia that the process of coordination is long, and that therefore he does not want to predict how the charges against him will end.
“If everything is conducted according to the law, then it will end with nothing for me. If it is not conducted according to the law, then anything is possible,” he noted. Earlier, Ponomarev explained that he had received only a small portion of the $750,000 – according to him, almost all of the funds went to technical expenses such as work with experts and travel costs.
But United Russia has already expressed a readiness to strip the opposition member of his immunity.
“Regardless of the name of the deputy, we support such appeals if all the requirements of the law are observed and if they foster the establishment of the truth. After all, the stripping of immunity is not an admission of a person’s guilt, it is only a necessary step toward clarifying the circumstances of the case,” explained Olga Batalina, Deputy Secretary of the General Council of United Russia.
At Just Russia, members also let it be known that they did not intend to defend their fellow party member. According to Alexander Ageyev, a member of the Bureau of the Presidium of Just Russia’s Central Council, the party would most likely not take part in the vote.
“Ponomarev is a comrade for many of us. But on the other hand, we see that he violated the law,” he emphasized.
Ponomarev may become the fourth deputy stripped of his immunity over the past year. On 6 July 2012, Vladimir Bessonov, deputy of the Communist Party, lost his immunity when he was suspected of resisting police officers. Konstantin Shirshov, who lost his seat in February, was accused of attempting to sell his seat in the Duma, and Oleg Mikheyev was suspected of embezzlement of 2.1 billion rubles.