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Senior govt. official charged with embezzlement

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MOSCOW, November 23 (RIA Novosti) - Prosecutors have formally charged Sergei Storchak, a Russian deputy finance minister, with attempting to misappropriate over $43 million of public funds, his lawyer said on Friday.

"Today, my client has been charged under Articles 30 and 159 of the Criminal Code, 'major fraud committed by an organized group,'" Igor Pastukhov said.

Storchak was detained in Moscow along with two businessmen late last Thursday on suspicion of attempting to embezzle $43 million. An arrest warrant was issued the following day.

Russia's Investigative Committee earlier said Storchak had been arrested due to prosecutors' concerns that he could destroy evidence or intimidate witnesses.

The Investigation Committee earlier said the arrest was related to the settlement of Soviet-era debts to the Sodexim company, adding that Storchak had been arrested along with Sodexim general director Viktor Zakharov and the president of the Moscow-based Interregional Investment Bank, Vadim Volkov. They face five to ten years in prison.

A key figure in Russia's Paris Club debt talks, Storchak assumed his current post in November 2005.

Kudrin, also a Russian deputy prime minister, ruled out Wednesday the possibility that his deputy had planned to embezzle state funds, saying he hoped for an unbiased investigation.

"I don't think there was an embezzlement attempt. This can be ruled out," he told journalists.

Kudrin's press secretary said Friday the finance minister will press for his deputy to be released from custody.

"The finance minister will guarantee that the defendant will behave appropriately and arrive on time when investigators summon him. The personal guarantee of Alexei Kudrin will be given to investigators soon," Pavel Kuznetsov said.

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