Top Russian rector forced out

November 28, 2003

The rector of one of Russia's top universities has resigned after falling victim to the political fall-out following the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Leonid Nevzlin, who owns 8 per cent of Khodorkovsky's oil company Yukos, stepped down from his post at the Russian State Humanities University after a government-backed move to force him out of the post he has held for just five months.

Mr Nevzlin took charge of the Moscow-based institution from its founder and president, Yuri Afanasyev, after the oil company pledged £60 million in funding over the next ten years.

Mr Nevzlin was aware that education minister Vladimir Filippov was after his blood. He said he resigned "to save staff being held hostage" to the Yukos affair.

Mr Nevzlin may have undermined his own position by also taking Israeli citizenship earlier this month. Russian law forbids the rectors of universities engaged in work related to official secrets from holding dual nationality.

The university trains specialists in information technology and security for, among others, the Federal Security Service. Mr Nevzlin is thought to have left for Israel after his resignation.

In neighbouring Belarus, Alaksandr Kazulin, rector of the Belarusian State University, has been replaced after charges of grand larceny were laid against officials of Unidrahmet BDU, a precious metals company owned by the university.

The firm's director and his deputy are under arrest on charges connected with the theft of 35kg of gold worth more than £176,000.

Mr Kazulin was called to attend the state prosecutor's office but failed to show up. The university said he was on two weeks' leave. But the prosecutor assumed that the rector had fled, and a senior official said that evening on Belarusian television that he was being "sought" for questioning.

When Mr Kazulin returned home, he immediately telephoned the prosecutor. He is considering suing the prosecutor's office and Belarusian television for defamation of character.

Belarusian president Alaksandr Lukashenka has appointed a former education minister as the new rector. He said he had warned Mr Kazulin to "stay within the bounds of a classical university", stick to research and steer clear of "non-scholarly activities".

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