Russian lawmaker stripped of immunity over elk's killing

The lower house of Russian parliament has 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

MOSCOW -- 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.

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.