MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov asked Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin on Thursday to account for 1 billion roubles ($41 million) in earthquake relief funds that had gone missing.
“I remember all the numbers by heart, 1 billion roubles has gone missing somewhere on the way,” Zubkov, a former collective farm boss appointed to head the government in September, told Kudrin during the televised cabinet meeting.
The remark could signal renewed pressure on Kudrin, whose deputy Sergei Storchak is in jail awaiting trial on charges of attempting to embezzle $43 million of public funds. Storchak has denied the charges.
There was no immediate comment from the finance ministry on Zubkov’s request.
Russian officials often accuse the finance ministry of holding up cash assigned for public institutions but the complaints have never resulted in any high-level sackings or prosecutions.
Kudrin, the cabinet’s leading fiscal hawk, oversees Russia’s economic policy. The cash Zubkov said was missing had been earmarked for rebuilding work after an earthquake in August on Russia’s Pacific island of Sakhalin.
The Storchak case has inflicted political damage on Kudrin as Kremlin factions vie for influence ahead of the poll to elect a successor to President Vladimir Putin next March. Kudrin has not yet been allowed to meet his jailed deputy.
Putin has named First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a Kudrin ally, as his favorite candidate to be the next president. Medvedev said that if elected, he would like Putin to be prime minister under him.