Russian lawmaker quits parliament in property row

MOSCOW (AP) - A senior lawmaker from the pro-Kremlin party resigned his seat in parliament on Wednesday after an anti-corruption campaigner alleged that he owns properties in Florida worth more than $2 million.

Vladimir Pekthin, chairman of the State Duma's ethics committee, told the parliament that he is stepping down to protect his party from the scandal.

The lawmaker became the center of the scandal last week when the anti-corruption crusader, Alexei Navalny, published copies of deeds and other legal documents indicating that Pekhtin and his son own two condos in Miami Beach and a villa in Ormond Beach, Florida. The market value of one of the two condos is about $1.3 million, Navalny said.

The resignation also comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted a bill that would prohibit Russian officials from holding bank accounts abroad.

Pekhtin has denied owning the properties although he admitted that his signatures on the deeds were genuine. Last week he told Izvestia daily that he "owns practically no property abroad."

In an interview with the NTV TV channel over the weekend Pekhtin insisted that the condos and villas belong to his 35-year-old son, Alexei. Pekhtin said that he does not speak English and thought that "warranty deed" meant that he was signing on the deals as a trustee. He describes the scandal as a "legal misunderstanding."

"I'm innocent before the law," Pekhtin told lawmakers, adding that allegations aim to "discredit the government and parliament."

Russian law does not bar public officials from owning property abroad but the officials are supposed to disclose all their property and bank accounts in tax statements. Pekhtin has never disclosed any property abroad.

Vladimir Vasilyev, Pekhtin's fellow lawmaker from the United Russia party, told the Interfax news agency after the morning session that Pekhtin will go to the United States to prove that he does not own property there.

Navalny, who made the allegations public in his blog last week hailed Pektin's resignation and said that he "feels a bit sorry" about $189 that he had to spend on the shipment of the certified copies that have yet to arrive from the United States.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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