Russian presidential hopeful Mezentsev denies cheating

Dmitry Mezentsev (file picture)
Image caption Mr Mezentsev is governor of Irkutsk region, in Siberia

A Russian presidential candidate, with close links to the Kremlin, has denied that his campaign organisers have been cheating.

Dmitry Mezentsev's team has been accused of hiring students to fill in fake lists of supporters.

The allegations were made by activists, who backed up their claims with videos posted on the internet.

To enter the presidential election on 4 March, independent candidates need to collect two million signatures.

Mr Mezentsev told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that he had looked into the allegations.

"There are no breaches in that video material," he said.

"At the request of activists from the railway trade unions, training for volunteers and instructors on how to collect signatures was organised on the premises of the Moscow State Railways University. Anything else is just speculation and invention."

The three videos were filmed by activists from the campaign group, Democratic Choice, who said they were acting on an anonymous tip-off.

As they entered the lecture theatre, some of the people in the room covered their faces.

The students appeared to be filling in long lists of names and passport numbers.

'False register'

"What is suspicious is where did they get all this information from?" said 31 year-old Igor Drandin, one of the campaigners who filmed the videos.

"The passport information, the names, the patronymics, the addresses, the places where people were registered. This is confidential personal data."

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Media captionVideo filmed by the campaign group Democratic Choice as they entered a lecture hall

"And this was all being done in a university in Moscow, but the information that was being written down is about people from other regions. For example, we saw Tverskoy region and Tambov region."

Mr Drandin says that he is in no doubt that what he witnessed was the creation of a false register of supporters.

"You can see it wasn't training because of the number of names and passport numbers they were writing down," he said.

However, he conceded that there were no signatures filled in yet on the forms he filmed.

On the blackboard at the front of the lecture hall were written some standard abbreviations used in writing addresses in Russia, and the Russian word "podpis" - signature.

Many of the students refused to tell the activists what they are doing. Others gave vague explanations.

"I'm sitting and writing", one student said, "I know what the subject is, but I'm not telling you."

One man tried to cover the camera lens.

At the end of the footage, posted on Mr Drandin's live journal page, a woman from security escorted the journalists from the room.

"What is happening here", she said, "is neither your business, nor ours".

It is not clear why Dmitry Mezentsev has entered the Russian presidential race.

He is the governor of the Irkutsk region in Siberia, and is known to be a close ally of Vladimir Putin, who is running to return to the presidency himself.

The suspicion is that Mr Mezentsev is there in case all the other candidates pull out.

A presidential election with only one candidate is not possible under the Russian constitution.

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