Putin backs proposal not to probe old sell-offs

Moscow, March 25 | Updated: Mar 25 2005, 05:30am hrs
Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to mend fences with big business, backed a proposal on Thursday not to investigate privatizations which took place more than three years ago.

Putin was speaking at a meeting with top Russian businessmen -- many of whom acquired vast fortunes in the 1990s through privatizations which were widely criticised for lacking transparency.

"I think it is possible to support shortening the statute of limitations on privatization deals from 10 years to three years," Putin said, adding, "I hope this will bring calm to the business community."

Business confidence has been shaken by the state's break-up of oil major Yukos and trial of its ex-CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky on fraud charges linked to the 1994 privatization of a fertilizer company. Confidence has also been hit by a major report into past privatizations by the head of Russia's Audit Chamber, Sergei Stepashin, publication of which has been delayed several times but which is due to be reviewed soon by parliament.

Putin said he was not happy about the pace of Russian economic growth, which has slowed since he won election for a second four-year term a year ago. "The pace of growth has slowed in the last two months," Putin said. "The structure of this growth and the state of the economy cannot satisfy us."

Some economists believe sliding confidence among Russian businessmen in the wake of the Yukos affair may have slowed the economy, which grew by 7.1% last year.