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Alrosa Faces Criminal Probe

Prosecutors have opened a criminal case against unidentified managers at the diamond monopoly Alrosa for allegedly embezzling 153 million rubles ($5.47 million), a spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office said on Saturday.

Prosecutors will examine Alrosa's finances in connection with the case, spokesman Sergei Marchenko said. The case was opened after the former head of Alrosa's legal department, Gamlet Akopian, reported violations committed by some managers, he said, declining to identify the managers or say how many were involved.

Marchenko said the investigation would include a full probe into the finances and business activities of Alrosa. Interfax quoted a source close to the inquiry as saying that a number of company officials would be questioned.

The company, which extracts one-quarter of the world's rough diamonds, said it had not been approached by prosecutors.

"Alrosa has not received any queries from prosecutors, and no investigations have been carried out in the company," an Alrosa statement said.

The company insisted it maintained the highest financial standards, saying its activities were under the "constant supervision of licensed bodies," including international auditors. Alrosa promised to offer its full cooperation to enable "an objective investigation."

The Audit Chamber, a watchdog body that reports directly to the presidential administration, said Saturday that it would open its own investigation at Alrosa over the company's tax payments for 2004 and 2005, Interfax reported, citing Viktor Panskov, one of the chamber's auditors.

Panskov said that auditors and prosecutors could join forces if need be, the news service reported.

The government owns 37 percent of Alrosa, while 32 percent is controlled by the government of Sakha, the eastern Siberian republic where the company mines much of its diamonds. The rest is divided among regional organizations in Sakha and Alrosa's work force.

Alrosa is on a Kremlin list of 1,063 enterprises that the state considers strategically vital.

Last year it mined rough gems worth $1.75 billion and increased net income 44 percent to 13.9 billion rubles ($501 million), the miner said in April. It is the world's second-largest rough diamond producer, after De Beers, an English-South African concern.

Alrosa expects to produce $2.2 billion of rough diamonds in 2005 and post a net income of about 13 billion rubles, the company said in December.

(The Moscow Times 16.v.05)

 
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