Russian invsestigators search Skolkovo hi-tech hub

Russian investigators on Thursday searched the offices of the Skolkovo Fund, a high-profile research and development project that former president Dmitry Medvedev wanted to turn into Russia's version of Silicon Valley.

A spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, Russia's equivalent of the United States' FBI, confirmed to AFP that searches were taking place at the Skolkovo offices in Moscow but declined to provide further details.

The raid on the fund headed by billionaire Viktor Vekselberg comes after investigators in February opened a criminal case over alleged embezzlement of nearly 24 million rubles ($760,000) by several fund officials.

According to the investigation, the Skolkovo Fund established a subsidiary which received state money but carried out no significant business operations in the two years since it was set up in 2011.

Its staff of around 10 people also received monthly salaries of between 300,000 rubles ($9,500) and 600,000 rubles ($19,000), the investigators said in a statement in February.

Spokespeople for the Skolkovo Fund were not immediately available for comment.

The Investigative Committee also said, citing information from the FSB state security service, that the Skolkovo Fund misappropriated 3.5 billion rubles ($110 million) which were deposited into accounts of a bank with links to Vekselberg.

During his four years as president between 2008 and 2012, Medvedev pushed his plan to build a high-tech hub in Skolkovo where top foreign and Russian scientists could focus their energies on nuclear, space, medicine and other sciences.

The project has now been put on the back burner after Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third presidential term last May and made Medvedev his prime minister.

Late last year, Putin launched an anti-corruption drive which many experts say is designed to boost the Russian strongman's sagging approval ratings after opposition protests against his 13-year rule.