* Prosecutors say investigation follows financing complaints
* Group says charges part of move to ban it from polls
By Alissa de Carbonnel
MOSCOW, Dec 1 Russia launched an
investigation on Thursday into the country's chief independent
election watchdog, in what the group described as the
culmination of a state-sponsored campaign to silence the monitor
just three days before parliamentary polls.
Moscow city prosecutors said in a statement the
investigation followed a complaint filed by lawmakers objecting
to watchdog Golos's foreign financing and calling for it to end
The complaint echoed Vladimir Putin's speech on Sunday at
his United Russia party congress, where he accused foreigners of
funding his political opponents in what reminded some of the
anti-Western rhetoric that marked his 2000-08 presidency.
Putin, now prime minister, is expected to easily recapture
the presidency in March, but opinion polls show Sunday's vote
could weaken his party's dominance in the lower house.
Golos employees told Reuters prosecutors had served the
group with a "speedy" court order to hear its case on Friday.
"This a premeditated campaign, which started with attacks in
the press, but is now making use of law enforcement agencies,"
said Grigory Melkonyants, the deputy head of Golos.
"We are certain this is only the first summons and there
will be other investigations, especially targeted at hampering
us from observing (the vote) on Dec. 4."
Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.
Golos, a non-profit organisation founded in 2000 whose name
means voice in English, mans a hotline and has an interactive
map where viewers can see campaign violations on the site
It openly says its funding comes entirely from Europe and
the United States and maintains that helps it be objective.
Melkonyants read from documents in which prosecutors warn
the organisation of breaking election laws by spreading
"falsifications and rumors".
Days before the vote, over 3,000 alleged campaign violations
were on Golos' website, many of them including videos which have
embarrassed United Russia officials.
One video clip that has become popular on the Internet
showed a top official in the western Urals city of Izhevsk
telling veterans they would get money if they voted for the
United Russia party.
It prompted rare punishment from authorities, and the city
official was found guilty by a Russian court and fined.
Trouble for Golos began on Saturday, when reporters from the
Kremlin-friendly TV station NTV barged into its offices,
Melkonyants said, shouting and asking questions about the
On Wednesday online news portal Gazeta.ru removed a link to
Golos' website, prompting one of its deputy editors, Roman
Badanin, to resign over what he dubbed an "amoral" decision.
Tanya Lokshina of the Moscow branch of New York-based Human
Rights Watch said the incidents were part of a smear campaign
directed at "getting rid of the organisation altogether."
"They are trying to shut it up because Golos is the only
large-scale, serious organisation that is exposing election
violations," she told Reuters.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Additional reporting by
Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Sophie Hares)