Speaking to a Moscow press conference Friday, auditor Sergei Ryabukhin said that as of January 1, 2004, Chukotka's debt to the federal government stood at 9.3 billion rubles (over $300 million, on current rates). The amount owed by the autonomy is 2.5 times as much as its own income, which amounted to just 3.9 billion rubles last year.
Ryabukhin described Chukotka's debt problem as "lingering." He reminded the media that in 1994 and 1995, the autonomy received 15.8 tons of gold in federal loans, worth a total $190 million. Now, the debt on those gold loans is at 6.2 billion roubles (including the interest and fines for the payment delay), he said.
Under effective Russian legislation, a Federation member state's debt to the federal government shall not exceed the size of its own treasury, Ryabukhin said. Hence the Accounting Chamber's conclusion about Chukotka's insolvency.
Chukotka Governor Abramovich, the owner of the Chelsea football club, also pointed out the region's dire financial state as he was taking the office in January 2001, Ryabukhin said. But the oil baron-turned-politician has not been able to pull his fiefdom out of the crisis, the comptroller said.
Boris Gryzlov, Speaker of the State Duma, or Russia's lower house of parliament, argues it will be "premature" to declare the Chukotka autonomy bankrupt. "As far as I know, the government of the Chukotka autonomous region is willing to consider the issue of debt rescheduling," Gryzlov said to reporters as he was commenting on the Accounting Chamber's assessment.
The Duma Speaker praised federal auditors for revealing the Chukotka government's debt arrears, but said it should be given a chance to set things right.