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Ilyumzhinov Threatens To Secede Amid Charges of Mismanagement

By Maura Reynolds
Los Angeles Times
MOSCOW

A high-ranking Kremlin official on Thursday accused the flamboyant president of the southern republic of Kalmykia of trying deflect questions about his finances by threatening to secede from Russia.

Oleg N. Sysuyev, deputy chief of President Boris N. Yeltsin's administration, also announced that new criminal investigations have been opened into allegations that Kirsan N. Ilyumzhinov illegally has mishandled federal funds.

Ilyumzhinov's recent complaints about Moscow and talk of secession are "a smoke screen to divert attention from efforts to sort out financial dealings by the republic's leadership," Sysuyev told a news conference.

Suspicions have swirled for months around Ilyumzhinov, who has spent millions on special projects, including a luxurious chess tournament center, while state funds for workers salaries have dried up.

Earlier this week, Ilyumzhinov blamed authorities in Moscow, saying his small, agricultural republic has received no financial support for months. Under the circumstances, he said, Kalmykia might consider loosening its ties to the Russian Federation or even seceding.

His remarks have unleashed a flood of criticism from Parliament and the Kremlin, saying that threats to secede are a violation of the Constitution.

"What is at stake here is a breakup of the Russian Federation," said Gennady N. Seleznyov, the speaker of Parliament's lower house. "Despite all the mysterious smiles of Ilyumzhinov, he's not a 15-year-old kid who can make such statements to boost his popularity. He must understand that today he is encroaching upon the foundations of the Russian Federation's state structure, and for that he must be held fully responsible."

Sysuyev said he had discussed the allegations with the country's top prosecutor, who has opened a number of investigations into the republic's shady financial affairs.