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By John Helmer in Moscow

The State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, was last elected in December 2007. The outcome was the following distribution of seats: United Russia, 315; Communist Party, 57; Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, 40; and Fair Russia, 38.

Vadim Varshavsky, 49, was elected to the Duma in 2005 on the United Russia slate, and reelected in 2007. He represents the Kamensky district of the Rostov region, where he owns a steelmill. Varshavsky is also a member of the Duma Committee on Industry. After defaulting on debts estimated to total between $3 billion and $4 billion, Varshavsky has decamped. A bank creditor says it has received telephone-calls from him, but does not know where he is calling from.

Varshavsky has also disappeared from his deputy’s seat. Representatives of the parliamentary parties and the Duma committee of which Varshavsky is a member, have responded with the following statements:

United Russia – party spokesman, requesting anonymity: No comment.

Communist Party — Nikolai Ryabov, a member of the Industry Committee: “I have never seen Varshavsky at the Industry Committee. Nobody is actually keeping a record of the deputies appearing in Duma. So practically nobody here will tell you if Varshavsky ever comes.”

Liberal Democratic Party – party spokesman, requesting anonymity: “Why should we bother to know the whereabouts of a deputy from a different party? We are not interested in such things”.

Fair Russia – Alexander Khinstein, a member of the Industry Committee (once an investigative journalist, pictured), through a spokesman: “Khinstein refuses to comment. This is not a topic to discuss with him. Khinstein has nothing to do with it.” Valeriy Gartung, party spokesman: “I wouldn’t go as far as saying Varshavsky left the country because of debts. If a deputy is not in Duma, it doesn’t mean he isn’t working. He may be visiting enterprises, he may be receiving visitors, he may be anywhere. I don’t see him right now, but I wouldn’t say he doesn’t appear in Duma.”

Legal Department of the State Duma — Alexander Alkhimenko. “In Duma the right of ‘free mandate’ is operating. It means that a deputy can fail to appear at any number of votes and sessions; deputies have no responsibility if they don’t fulfil their duties. The law according to which a deputy can lose his immunity is called Law on the Status of Federation Council members and State Duma deputies. According to this law a deputy can lose immunity if:
— they change Russian citizenship to another citizenship
— they go to service in a state or municipal body
— they go to service in a foreign non-commercial body
— they head a commercial organisation and receive payment; this does not include shareholders.
According to Article 20, if a deputy has broken Russian law, the General Prosecutor’s office applies to the Chairman of the State Duma; the chairman initiates a vote; and by majority vote the deputy is deprived of immunity.”

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