( dpa ) - Russian prosecutors have opened an investigation that will likely disqualify presidential opposition candidate Mikhail Kasyanov for allegedly forging the signatures he needed to run, news agency Interfax reported Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the former prime minister accused Russia's election commission of "political pressure" to chase him from the race.
Kasyanov, who turned critical of President Vladmir Putin after being dismissed in 2004, had been viewed as the only opposition candidate in the race, though he trails far behind Putin's chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev.
Kasyanov filed a required 2.07 million signatures in support of his candidacy last week.
Russia's Central Election Commission who were still in the process of verifying the 2 tons of signatures on Tuesday, found 7.5 per cent of the names given in support of Kasyanov were falsified. Over 5 per cent of "fraud" disqualifies a candidate.
The opening of a criminal investigation Tuesday seemed to cut off Kasynov's chances of appearing on the ballot.
Prosecutors charged that 12,000 signatures collected in the Volga region of Mari El had been forged, Tatyana Chernyshova, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office was quoted by Itar-tass as saying.
"An investigation of alerts received by the prosecutor's office ... has revealed incidents of falsification of election documents," Chernyshova said.
Meanwhile, the election commission on Monday officially registered First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev, who is exempt from submitting signatures because he was nominated by two parties in parliament for the March 2 presidential vote.
As of Tuesday, three candidates were registered for the race including two other candidates fielded by their parties: Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party.
The election commission is also reviewing the signature list of the head of the Democratic Party of Russia Andrei Bogdanov, who is the only other self-nominated candidate looking to join the ballot.
The comission said they had found 3 per cent of his lists was fraudulent.
Critics have charged that Bogdanov's candidacy is part of a Kremlin project to divide the opposition and point out that the party received about 90,000 votes in last month's State Duma election, much less than the 2 million needed to enter the presidential race.
Observers believe that the paperwork required for registration provides an opportunity to reject Kasyanov's registration on technical grounds if the Kremlin decides against his running.
If successful, Kasyanov will be the only opposition figure from the activist anti-Kremlin political movement that organized a series of so-called Dissenters' Marches in the run-up to December parliamentary elections.
Former chess hero Garry Kasparov pulled out of the race in December saying he was blocked by authorities from holding a congress for his nomination.
With Putin's backing Medvedev's victory is widely viewed as a forgone conclusion.
According to Russia's state pollster on Monday, Medvedev was supported by 60 per cent of voters, Zhirinovsky by 8 per cent and Zyuganov by 6 per cent.
Kasyanov had 1 per cent of voter's support, according to the nationwide poll of 1,600 voters. The poll's margin of error was 3.4 per cent.