MOSCOW, Sept. 28 -- Russian election officials on Thursday barred the political party of Sergei Mavrodi, mastermind of the nation's largest pyramid investment swindle, from registering for December parliamentary elections. Nikolai Ryabov, chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission, said at an open session that Mavrodi's Party of People's Capital had violated election laws by putting their leader's brother and wife next to him on its list of candidates. To register for the upcoming elections, parties must put forth a list of 12 candidates and collect 200,000 signatures by Oct. 22. 'Couldn't he come up with 12 relatives?' Ryabov said sarcastically, commenting on the party's short, nepotistic list. Mavrodi was the chairman of the MMM investment fund, a pyramid scheme that stands as Russia's largest financial hoax, which cost thousands of Russian investors millions of dollars when it collapsed last summer. Many investors lost their entire life savings and called on the government to regulate investment funds, while others formed a cult of Mavrodi and blamed the government for sabotaging his company. Mavrodi, who has not made good on promises to return investments to his clients, was arrested on tax evasion charges last fall, but avoided serving out his term by winning a seat in the lower house of parliament in by-elections last fall. During the past year, Mavrodi appeared only once in the State Duma, during a voting session when his fellow deputies failed by a slim margin to strip him of his parliamentary immunity.
Ryabov requested an investigation into the formation of the party, calling it a 'crude violation of the Constitution,' and a ruse to reward votes with economic benefits. Mavrodi has said that if he is re-elected, members of his party will be the first to be compensated for their MMM losses. The decision came as a setback for Mavrodi's election hopes, since only registered parties are allowed to collect signatures. A Mavrodi spokesman rejected Ryabov's charges, saying the Justice Ministry had already investigated the party's charter and found nothing wrong. Some 60 parties, alliances and movements have already registered with the Central Electoral Commission. So far, only the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, headed by leading communist politician Gennady Zuganov, has collected the required 200,000 signatures.