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    Court invalidates auction of dacha belonging to ex-PM Kasyanov

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    MOSCOW, February 2 (RIA Novosti) - The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled Thursday that the auctioning of a country house that now belongs to former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was illegal.

    The court ruling has partially upheld a suit filed by the Federal Property Department, but rejected the department's claim to return Sosnovka-1 into the federal property.

    In September 1996, the department had signed a deal with Russian oil company Evikhon, through which the company obtained a 49-year lease for Sosnovka-1 and Sosnovka-3.

    Evikhon subsequently sold its tenant's rights to state company VPK Invest, which in February 2003 received authorization from the property department to sell the dachas.

    Sosnovka-3 was sold to Veltex, which is partly owned by Mikhail Fridman, head of the Alfa Group. The Sosnovka-1 plot was sold to another company, Amelia, which re-sold it to Mikhail Kasyanov.

    The court rejected six motions from representatives of Kasyanov and Amelia, who had asked for the hearings to be postponed and adjourned for them to get additional documents. They also said the property department's statements that the auctioning had not been covered by the press were unsubstantiated.

    As for the assessment of the sold property, Kasyanov's representatives said the buildings had been constructed in 1937-1960, and were nearly 100% worn out, which is why their price could not be high, while the property department officials contradicted them by saying that the property had been substantially underestimated. Kasyanov's representatives added that the time limit for the case had expired.

    After he obtained Sosnovka-1, Kasyanov found himself at the center of a political storm as a result of the deal, with the Federal Property Department ruling that these deals led to the illegal privatization of state property and filing a suit with the Arbitration Court.

    Although the cases over the two plots were taken up simultaneously, the Sosnovka-1 case was eventually suspended at the end of last year until the hearings resumed Thursday.

    Sosnovka-1 stretches over 11.5 hectares on the Moskva River, near the capital, with a private beach. In Soviet times, the land was home to the second secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee, Mikhail Suslov.

    Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn lives at nearby Sosnovka-2.

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