Russian court rules real-estate deal involving ex-PM and Kremlin critic invalid

A Russian court ruled Thursday that the auction of a holiday villa now purportedly owned by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was invalid, Russian news agencies reported.

Interfax said Kasyanov, now a Kremlin opponent, called the ruling politically motivated.

Fired by President Vladimir Putin in February 2004, Kasyanov came under investigation for fraud and abuse of office last year after a lawmaker and investigative journalist alleged he had acquired the lucrative, state-owned dacha near Moscow through front firms just before leaving office.

He has not been indicted, but the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled a January 2004 auction of the property invalid, the RIA-Novosti and Interfax news agencies reported. However, the reports said the court rejected a request to return the property to the state.

Kasyanov, who has become a vocal Kremlin critic and a potential candidate in the 2008 presidential election, called the court decision "not legal but political" and said it showed that Russian courts serve the interests of the state, not justice.

"This decision is not based on the case material or on legal grounds. It reflects the current political situation and the submission of one branch of government to another," Interfax quoted him as saying. "Once again, political issues have taken the upper hand over legal ones", reports AP.


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