There is a rising clamor in Russia for the head of Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who has been accused of squandering taxpayer's money while the country's Vancouver Olympics team went down to defeat last winter in Vancouver.
Mr. Mutko, who was rated as Russia's second-most unpopular government minister in a recent poll, says he won't quit over a report by the parliament's Audit Chamber that alleges he spent 12 times his official limit for hotel expenses during the Vancouver Games, or a whopping $32,400 over 20 days.
During the same time, the report says, Russian taxpayers forked over $4,500 for his breakfasts alone.
Mutko says the allegations are baseless, and that he was just following the same standards as government officials the world over.
"Why do those who want to accuse me of something not interest themselves in how much the French sports minister paid for accommodation?" Mutko told the Moscow daily Vedemosti.
But the new chief of Russia's Olympic Committee, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov, says the report will be acted upon. "There are direct financial violations. This will be a subject matter for scrutiny by the law enforcement agencies in the future," he told the official ITAR-Tass agency.
Mr. Zhukov was elected to head the Olympic Committee after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev asked for, and received, the resignation of the previous chief, Leonid Tyagachyov, following the disastrous Vancouver showing.
Russia won just three gold and 15 total medals in Vancouver, the country's worst-ever Olympic performance. The Audit Chamber estimated that each medal cost $12.4 million, or about five times more than Russia's Olympic investment in the 2006 Turin Games, where it won eight gold medals.
The Sochi Games, the pet project of former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin, have cost the Russian government $12 billion and become the subject of a bitter and growing bureaucratic battle for influence.
"After Vancouver, President Medvedev criticized Mutko, who is a member of Prime Minister Putin's team," says Andrei Kolesnikov, an independent political journalist. "But Mutko did not resign at that time. Now, we're seeing another attempt."
Friends in high places
Experts say Mutko has strong protection, and even the allegations of overspending may not be enough to overturn him.
"What the Audit Chamber reported has always been common knowledge in sports circles, and after Vancouver it was obvious that some sort of shakeup would have to take place," says Pavel Salin, an expert with the independent Center for Political Trends in Moscow. "But it is yet to be seen whether Mutko is capable of defending himself."
The Russian public, which has little say in the outcome of inner-Kremlin battles, has apparently already made up its mind about Mutko.
According to a late June survey by the state-run VTsIOM public opinion agency, Mutko had a 31 percent disapproval rating, which put him in second place for the country's least popular government minister, after Education Minister Andrei Fursenko, who was disliked by 37 percent.