Ex-ally of Putin claims Duma vote to expel him ‘a vendetta’

RUSSIA’S parliament expelled an outspoken opponent of president Vladimir Putin yesterday in a vote which the deputy likened to a Stalinist show trial and said intensified a Kremlin crackdown on dissent.

Opposition activists said the ousting of Gennady Gudkov, the first person to be voted out of the State Duma by peers since 1995, would radicalise demonstrators on the eve of an anti-Putin rally in Moscow today.

The opposition MP was expelled over allegations he ran a business while in the lower house, which is illegal. Mr Gudkov, 56, denied the charge, but the expulsion deprived him of parliamentary immunity and he could now face trial and up to two years in jail.

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“Everything happening here is a lawless show trial. It is a political vendetta and extrajudicial punishment,” Mr Gudkov told the Duma before the vote, as he compared Russia’s top prosecutor to one of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s henchmen.

The chamber voted 291-150 to expel the former KGB officer, with three abstentions.

Mr Gudkov said: “I received my mandate from the people, from hundreds of thousands of voters who voted for me, and only they can judge what kind of deputy I am.” He also drew comparisons between his accusers in the Duma and the oprichniki death squads who operated under Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 16th century Russia.

Mr Gudkov raised his fist in defiance as he walked out of the chamber after the vote. Wearing a trademark crumpled brown suit, the portly and mustachioed deputy shook hands with allies in the chamber and kissed one woman deputy as he made his way out. He is a member of the Just Russia party, and was formerly an ally of Mr Putin’s United Russia but became an opposition force in the run-up to last December’s parliamentary election.

Mr Gudkov said the allegations against him – over his connections with a construction materials market and security firms – were “a farce” and he has circulated a list of pro-Putin members of the chamber he says are guilty of running businesses.

He said: “If they dare to open a criminal case against me and jail me, well, I will accept such fate. But I want to say once again the country has taken a step towards a civil war.”

Deputy general prosecutor Vladimir Malinovsky told the chamber Mr Gudkov had carried out “entrepreneurial activities” before entering the Duma and had not stopped them when he took up his seat.

Yelena Leonenko, a deputy chief of the federal investigative committee, said it would continue its investigation into Mr Gudkov’s business activities until 23 September, and would then decide whether to open criminal proceedings against him.

The vote on whether Mr Gudkov should be expelled was held at the request of the head of a parliamentary committee on members’ declared incomes.

The Kremlin has denied attacking critics through their business activities, and says it has not launched a crackdown on the opposition since Mr Putin returned to the presidency in May. But opposition leaders portray Mr Gudkov’s treatment as part of a growing campaign to discredit their movement.

Protest leader Alexei Navalny has been accused of stealing timber from a state firm, which could land him in prison for ten years, and he and other opposition leaders had their homes raided a day before the last big opposition rally, on 12 June.