Putin's anti-graft ally fends off real estate accusations

MOSCOW, March 11 (Reuters) - The head of the Russian parliament's anti-corruption committee, an ally of Vladimir Putin, on Monday dismissed as "innuendo" accusations that she had concealed ownership of an expensive flat in Moscow.

Irina Yarovaya fended off the allegations aired by a prominent magazine weeks after another member of Putin's ruling United Russia party resigned in a real estate scandal that undermined a Kremlin drive to crack down on corruption.

"All this is nothing more than dirty innuendo," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Yarovaya as saying of the accusations reported by The New Times magazine which is often critical of the Kremlin.

An aide to Yarovaya, who has been at the forefront of Putin's campaign to curb graft since his return to the presidency last May, told Reuters she had not broken any laws by not mentioning the flat in her annual declaration on income and property because it was owned by her adult daughter.

"Under the law, deputy Yarovaya must declare possessions of her own, her husband and children under adult age. So there can be no talk here of any legal violation. This is just an attempt to discredit her and undermine her work at the committee," the aide, Oleg Zhdanov, said.

The value of nearly $3 million that The New Times put on the 100-square-metre (1,000 square feet) flat in central Moscow was more than five times higher than the actual price at the time of purchase, Zhdanov said.

The accusations against such a prominent member of United Russia, and one who has played such a role, could embarrass the Kremlin.

Another United Russia deputy stepped aside as head of the Duma's ethics committee and then resigned his seat in the chamber last month after being accused of not mentioning property abroad in his declarations to the chamber.

He says he did nothing wrong and that his son owns the property in the U.S. state of Florida.

The State Duma gave initial backing in February to a bill promoted by United Russia deputies, including Yarovaya, that would give senior officials three months to close foreign accounts and sell stocks abroad - or quit.

In another attempt to convince voters that the Kremlin's crackdown on graft is genuine, Yarovaya in December proposed to double jail terms for corruption. But opinion polls also show Russians are sceptical that the latest campaign would succeed.

Putin is widely considered to have failed to curb graft since he was first elected president in 2000 and Russia ranked 143 out of 182 states in the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)