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On Tuesday, officers of the Russian Investigative Committee (SK) questioned Kirov Region governor Nikita Belykh and searches were conducted in his office and country house. SK representatives were looking for documents on the alienation from the regional property of shares of the Urzhum distillery. According to investigators, a quarter of the enterprise was transferred to private owners at the value almost 100 million roubles understated.
Searches were conducted at the Kirov governor’s office and cottage by investigators of the SK Main Investigation Department jointly with officers of the Interior Ministry (MVD) and Federal Security Service (FSB) in the presence of masked special force policemen, the Kommersant daily writes. According to unofficial data, the seizure of documents was carried out not only in the office of Belykh in the regional government, but also in the governor’s countryside residence at the region’s Black Lake. According to SK spokesman Vladimir Markin, the investigators were interested in the documents relating to the sale of 25.5 percent of shares of the Urzhum distillery, which, according to investigators, were sold at undervalued price.
The materials have been single out for considering in a separate procedure during the investigation of the criminal case against former adviser of Belykh Alexei Navalny who is accused of embezzling property of the Kirovles company.
In the evening, the governor commented on the searches in his Internet blog and noted that the investigators behaved correctly. However, he recalled that “the Prosecutor’s Office had already checked this deal and did not find anything.”
Meanwhile, Leonid Gozman, who was deputy of Nikita Belykh when he headed the SPS party has been summoned for questioning to the SK on February 3, the newspaper reports. “As the telephone message about my summons for interrogation came to the SPS movement, I suppose that the interest in me is linked with charges against Alexei Navalny over his alleged steeling of something from SPS,” Gozman commented on the event.
Leonid Gozman also said that “Navalny has not stolen anything from the party.” And so far, “Navalny has been under the shakedown, not Belykh.”
Another colleague of Belykh in the SPS party - Boris Nemtsov said that the governor “is pressed for giving evidence against Navalny in the SPS case that he refused to give, and now he is threatened with searches and interrogations.” “They broke into the governor’s office in masks, as to a bandit in front of the amazed audience – now how can he continue performing his duties. Obviously, they’ll soon say goodbye to Belykh as the governor,” said Nemtsov.
RF president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that there has been no reaction of Vladimir Putin to searches at the governor’s office. “There is no case against Belykh, the search cannot be the reason for dismissal. We have a presumption of innocence,” he said.
Alexei Navalny, commenting on the situation to the Vedomosti newspaper, suggests that the searches may be a measure of intimidation, “a way to make Belykh give testimony against his former advisor.”
“There is no politics in the case: the searches at Belykh’s office indicate that there is no indulgence for any of those involved in breaking the law, so it’s a continuation of the fight against corruption,” a source in the RF presidential administration told the newspaper.
According to another source of the newspaper, which is close to the administration, the Kremlin was unhappy by Belykh’s recent statements that he would soon meet with President Vladimir Putin who will give him the green light to the nomination. In mid-January, Belykh said he was going to ahead of time participate in the gubernatorial election in 2013.
“But it’s not Belykh who will decide this,” said the publication’s source. “Belykh will not be locked up, because he has not been yet put in jail, but by the time of the elections he will not be competitive any more. The searches are rather aimed at Navalny and ascertaining Belykh’s contacts with him,” the source concluded.
“For any politician a search of this scale, even with the police special force, is always a signal, and not a formal procedure and it is carried out with the approval of the leadership of not only the Interior Ministry and the SK,” believes United Russia member Alexander Khinshtein.
According to Maria Gaidar, who for 2.5 years had worked as deputy of Nikita Belykh in the government of the Kirov Region, she believes that the searches testify to the toughening of the regime, the RBC Daily writes. “The searches at Nikita’s office are a clear end of the ‘Medvedev’s thaw,’ so we’ll wait when they come for Gontmakher,” she wrote in her micro-blog.