Police detained Yaroslavl mayor Yevgeny Urlashov overnight to Wednesday. His subordinates were placed under arrest later. They are accused of extorting a large bribe. The Opposition claimed a political put-up job against the only mayor of a regional center who is not a ruling party member.
Sources in law-enforcement bodies told the Kommersant that the local department for combating economic crimes had long been watching Urlashov. The operation entered the active phase two weeks ago, when head of the Radostroi company Sergei Shmelev reported to police that his firm had signed a street cleaning contract with Town Hall in 2012. He was asked to pay 6 percent of the sum of the contract /14 million roubles/ to the local administration. It followed from his statement that the officials, who had not received their "kickback," began to slow down the payments under the contract.
Alexei Lopatin, an advisor to Urlashov, had to receive 14 million roubles from the firm /435,000 dollars/. He sent an intermediary to the meeting who was detained by police. Lopatin failed to turn up for a meeting with the intermediary, and police launched an urgent operation to detain "all other participants in the extortion scheme."
Some 100 police and Investigative Committee /SK/ personnel were involved in the operation and subsequent searches, the newspaper writes. The mayor was taken to the local police station, and a search was carried out in his apartment which found nothing. Police then received a tip that shortly before the search, Urlashov's daughter Anastasia had taken several parcels to the neighbor's apartment, which allegedly contained 500,000 dollars and an expensive collection of knives. A lawyer denied this information.
Urlashov did not refuse to give evidence but denied all the charges. After the questioning, the mayor was put in a remand word where he can spend up to two days before a court selects a measure of restraint for him.
Local residents in Yaroslavl rallied after the mayor's arrest, saying they were supporting not Yevgeny Urlashov but "justice" which was breached during the "night show."
"The elected mayor was detained without explanations at night: is this a normal state?" an elderly person said in indignant comments. "We didn't expect this sort of thing; it's a setup," pensioner Marina agreed. She assured that a majority of town residents supported Urlashov and that they were ready to stage rallies.
Yevgeny Urlashov's victory over the United Russia candidate in the spring of 2012 became a symbol showing that the ruling party could be defeated in elections, despite its administrative leverage. Although Urlashov was a United Russia member in 2008-2011, his success was regarded as a victory by the Opposition. Consequently, the events overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday were viewed in a political context. Political motivation was claimed by Mr Urlashov and his lawyers, as well as by Civil Platform leader Mikhail Prokhorov /the mayor planned to lead his Party list in the election to the regional parliament on September 8/.
United Russia sometimes loses mayoral elections in large cities. The winners of such elections face two options: they either join the ruling party or prepare to be questioned by investigative bodies. Urlashov never entered into alliance with Untied Russia, and even was in conflict with its local branch. "We see similar pressure on our mayors of large cities," Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party /KPRF/ Sergei Obukhov told the Kommersant, "the main task of the ruling party is to oust an Opposition mayor."
Vice president of the political technologies center Rostislav Turovsky thinks that Urlashov's arrest will "demoralize not so much the Opposition as certain politicians and business persons who would like to come to power through elections."
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the arrest, ahead of the elections to the regional parliament, bewildered even the United Russia leadership. At the newspaper's request, State Duma lawmaker from the Yaroslavl region Anatoly Greshnevikov heard the audio file which allegedly confirmed Urlashov's involvement in extortion. "The recorded conversation certainly seems to be unpleasant but I didn't hear anything suggesting extortion," Greshnevikov said.
According to the lawmaker, the decision to arrest the mayor was made after a rally in Yaroslavl against the ruling party that brought together thousands of people. "I warned him two months ago that an attempt to eliminate him as a politician would be made in the near future," he added.
Secretary of United Russia's General Council Sergei Neverov called the detention of mayor in the runup to the election "very strange and inadmissible," expressing the hope that the investigators had solid reasons for it.
The Novye Izvestia believes that the prosecution of the Yaroslavl mayor may result in much of the electorate's voting against the ruling party at the regional parliamentary election.