Wealthy private entrepreneur Alexei Chepa is out to take the party in hand, he complained. The tycoon first emerged in the political limelight while sponsoring the Agrarians in the latest parliamentary pre-election campaign, last winter. He was running No. Three on the party ticket. A plenary session of the party Central Council co-opted Chepa and elected him party vice-president.
The December poll left Agrarians with no seats in the State Duma, lower house-it failed to negotiate a 5 per cent barrier, scoring a miserable 3.64 per cent of votes. The affluent donor saw he had wasted his money, and came out to lay his deft fingers on the party. He was stooping to blackmail and plotting with certain party bosses, says Mikhail Lapshin. He is accusing the recent benefactor of underhand deals which left the party, formally, in huge debt. The bewildered Agrarian Party has not to this day offered a financial report on its campaign to the Central Election Commission.
The campaign cost the party twenty million US dollars, alleges Alexei Chepa. As the matter really stood, the party election fund received slightly more than 37 million roubles, roughly $1.3 million, on its special account, says Lapshin.
In a written application of March 31 to Vladimir Ustinov, federal Prosecutor General, the party president demanded criminal proceedings launched against Chepa. As the message has it, the Agrarian top was proceeding from the party statute, and so did not authorise anyone to finance it on underhand arrangements, so the party is not responsible for arbitrary moves by any private persons or companies. Lapshin suspects Chepa of trespassing several clauses of the federal law on State Duma elections and Russia's Civil Code.
Three days before Lapshin's appeal to the top prosecutor, Chepa made a move the party president regards as an attempt to libel the Agrarian top. The party is preparing for its 12th congress, due to open April 28. A month before, March 28, the tycoon convened leaders of several regional party branches for conference under the pretext of applying final touches on a party programme draft, to be offered to the congress. The conference produced two documents-an appeal to the party president to step down far ahead of his term, and a similar address to regional party leaders.
Lapshin retaliated with letters, in which he called all regional party branches to comply with the party statute, convene report-back election meetings, and elect congress delegates.
Judging by all that, the Agrarian Party is really in a plight, passions seething.