MOSCOW – A highly connected former KGB officer who has openly rebelled against President Vladimir Putin faces expulsion from Parliament in a case critics say may pave the way for a crackdown on other opposition lawmakers.
The Kremlin-controlled Duma is set to decide whether to strip Gennady Gudkov of his seat this week after a parliamentary committee on Monday approved an unfinished investigative report questioning his business activities, a decision Gudkov insists is political payback from authorities.
The case highlights the growing split among Russia's political elite. One of the few Duma deputies to have taken part in rallies against his fellow former KGB officer Putin, Gudkov is seen as a dealmaker who can win over government supporters and negotiate with authorities through his connections to Russian intelligence and police — but the Kremlin has grown increasingly impatient with his outspokenness.
The Incomes Committee on Monday voted 8 to 5 with one abstention to accept a report by the country's top investigators finding that he ran his own business, which is forbidden under Duma rules, and put a resolution to oust him up for a vote on Friday.
Gudkov rejected the investigators' claims and insisted after the hearing that the pro-Kremlin United Russia party "has launched extrajudicial reprisals."
"Every man has the right to be defended in court," he said. "Here you don't have a court or investigation."
If he is as expelled from the Duma, as is expected, he would be stripped of immunity and can be prosecuted. He currently faces no charges.
The Russian opposition is gearing up for a big protest rally this Saturday, and Gudkov's supporters say authorities want to strip him of his powers so that they can arrest him at the rally and prosecute him.
Several Duma deputies have been stripped of immunity to allow proceedings against them but no one has been expelled so far without charge. Gudkov's expulsion could also set a dangerous precedent for dissenting lawmakers because if they can be kicked out without charges "it'd be possible to immediately strip of his seat any deputy who put a wrong foot," columnist and author Dmitry Bukov said on Ekho Moskvy radio Monday.
The claims presented at the committee hearing on Monday include evidence from a preliminary probe that is still continuing. Several opposition deputies have voiced dismay, asking why the committee cannot wait for charges to be brought or the probe to be finished.