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Russia lawmaker resigns amid scandal over US property

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

The head of the Russian parliament's ethics committee resigned his seat on Wednesday after a leading opposition anti-corruption crusader accused him of having secret property in the United States.

Ruling party lawmaker Vladimir Pekhtin quit after Alexei Navalny, arguably the most charismatic leader of Russia's opposition movement, accused him of owning property in the resort town of Miami Beach in Florida that he had not declared.

The resignation of such a prominent ruling party lawmaker is the biggest scalp yet for Navalny's anti-corruption investigations that have turned the lawyer into a figurehead of the anti-Vladimir Putin protest movement.

Documents that he posted online this month show that Pekhtin, a member of the ruling United Russia party, and his son Alexei jointly own the condominium.

Pekhtin denied that he violated any laws and said the Russian opposition wanted to discredit the entire parliament and not just him.

"I do not want the unjustified accusations to cast a shadow over our party," he told a session of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in televised remarks.

"That is why I made a difficult decision -- I will say that honestly -- to resign the post of a State Duma deputy," he said to applause from his colleagues.

The Russian opposition charges that the parliament dominated by United Russia lacks legitimacy because December 4 parliamentary polls were slanted in favour of the ruling party.

Claims of vote fraud brought tens of thousands into the streets across Russia last year and encouraged opposition leaders to cobble together an anti-Kremlin protest movement.

Since Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third term in May, the parliament fast-tracked a number of controversial laws that critics say are designed to clamp down on the country's awakening civil society.

The opposition says Russian pro-Kremlin lawmakers are hypocrites because many of the recently adopted laws are anti-Western yet many of the deputies have secret property in Europe and the United States.

In recent months, Navalny and his allies have exposed several top officials whom they say own property in the West but Pekhtin is the first to resign over the claims.

The documents on Pekhtin's US property were provided to Navalny by a like-minded blogger, known by his nickname doct-z, who is a Russian physicist residing in Spain.

"To be fair, we have to admit that such a step by Pekhtin shows that he has the remnants of conscience lingering somewhere deep down," Navalny wrote in his blog on Wednesday.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130220/russia-lawmaker-resigns-amid-scandal-over-us-property