Russian lawmaker stripped of immunity over elk’s killing

MOSCOW (AP) — The lower house of Russia’s parliament on Thursday stripped a lawmaker who is critical of the Kremlin of his immunity, allowing prosecutors to press charges against him over the allegedly illegal killing of an elk during a hunting trip.

Valery Rashkin, 66, first denied the accusations but later reversed course and admitted the killing. He insisted, however, that he was unaware that he was breaking the law and described the case against him as politically driven.

The State Duma voted 341-55 to strip Rashkin of his immunity. Rashkin, who will retain his parliament seat pending the probe, may face a fine or a prison term of up to five years if convicted.

Some Russian media alleged that Rashkin, a member of the Communist Party, faced the charges due to his frequent criticism of the Kremlin and his support for jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the most high-profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In September, Rashkin was among a few Communist Party members who vociferously protested alleged fraud in online voting in Moscow during Russia’s parliamentary and local elections.

Speaking to lawmakers Thursday, Rashkin charged that the case against him was politically motivated, claiming that the real reason behind his prosecution was his “fight for honest elections that vexed the authorities.”

Russia’s Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov denied any political motivation behind the case.

The Communist Party is nominally in opposition to the Kremlin, but it votes in line with its wishes on key policy issues. Some observers alleged that Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov could have quietly backed the charges against Rashkin, whom he sees as a destabilizing figure.