by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) April 16, 2014
The head of the famed Russian space-rocket company Energia that makes the Soyuz spacecraft faces a criminal investigation into alleged abuse of office, Russia's Investigative Committee said on Wednesday.
Vitaly Lopota, president of Energia, is suspected of approving unauthorised loans to an international space consortium, Russia's equivalent of the FBI said in a statement.
Lopota is one of the country's most important space officials, responsible for a company that has won the bulk of the contracts for Russian space hardware.
Since the retirement of the US shuttle, the Soyuz rocket-and-capsule system is the sole means for sending humans into space, responsible for transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.
The Investigative Committee said Lopota had illegally authorised Energia to give loans to companies taking part in the Sea Launch international consortium in which it was a major shareholder.
Sea Launch is an international service which launches rockets from a mobile sea platform. It has faced severe financial problems.
The money should have gone towards the manufacture of spaceships in line with international agreements, and the terms of the loans were also not beneficial for Energia, the Investigating Committee said.
It said this had resulted in losses for the state, which partly owns Energia, of 41 million rubles ($1.14 million).
Lopota had yet to be placed under arrest.
Energia traces its history back to the very dawn of Soviet spaceflight efforts in 1946 after World War II and was behind the launch of the first satellite and man into space.
Its full name is the Sergei Korolyov Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, named after the great Soviet rocket designer seen as the genius behind Yuri Gagarin's first manned spaceflight in 1961.
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