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Court delays hearings on returning ex-PM Kasyanov dacha to state

MOSCOW, January 9 (RIA Novosti) - A Moscow court has postponed until January 29 hearings on a property watchdog's suit demanding that a former prime minister's country house be returned to the state, a court official said Tuesday.

The Federal Property Management Agency is calling for the Sosnovka-1 dacha in western Moscow, currently owned by Mikhail Kasyanov to be returned to the state, and for the former head of government to be fined for the illegal use of the estate.

"Hearings were postponed as the plaintiffs need more time to gather evidence," the official said.

The agency wants Kasyanov, the first premier to serve under President Vladimir Putin in 2000-2004, to pay 46.6 million rubles ($1.77 million) for the estate, which stretches over 11.5 hectares on the Moskva River and has a private beach, and another 61.5 million rubles ($2.34 million) for illegally using the estate from August 2005 to August 2006.

In February 2006, the Moscow Arbitration Court invalidated the sale of Sosnovka-1 to Kasyanov, but did not seize the property, as the court ruled that he was the bona fide purchaser.

Earlier reports said the state property committee had signed a deal with Russian oil company Evikhon in September 1996, giving the company a 49-year lease for Sosnovka-1. Evikhon subsequently sold its tenant rights to state company VPK Invest, which in February 2003 received authorization from the property department to sell the dacha.

The Sosnovka-1 plot was then sold to Russian company Amelia, which resold it to Kasyanov.

The Federal Property Management Agency says the deals led to the misappropriation of the state-owned land plot and facilities.

Kasyanov's appeals against Moscow Arbitration Court's ruling, which found the sale illegal, were rejected in April and July.

Kasyanov leads the Russian People's Democratic Union, which portrays itself as an opposition group and accuses the Kremlin of infringing on civil and political liberties. The party is trying to forge an alliance with other liberal forces ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections in the country in 2008.

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