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Russia Police Target Kirov Governor Linked to Putin’s Critic

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Russian investigators searched the office of Nikita Belykh, governor of the Kirov region in central Russia, as part of a probe into alleged embezzlement.

Belykh, a former leader of the opposition Union of Right Forces party, will be questioned after officials complete the search for documents related to a sale of state shares in a local alcohol producer, the Investigative Committee said today in a statement on its website. The sale “undervalued” the government-owned asset by more than 90 million rubles ($3 million), resulting in embezzlement of funds, the Moscow-based law-enforcement agency alleged.

“The prosecutors office has already carried out one probe as part of that case and didn’t find anything,” Belykh wrote on his blog. He said he’ll come forward to testify as a witness tomorrow.

Investigators are seeking the arrest of a former head of the Kirov region state property department and have detained two other people suspected of involvement in the case, according to the statement.

Belykh has come to the defense of anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, who faces three separate criminal cases, including one relating to alleged financial damage he caused to a state timber company while working as an unpaid adviser on corporate governance to the Kirov governor.

Masked Police

Investigators in December opened a third criminal case against Navalny, alleging he embezzled 100 million rubles from the Union of Right Forces.

Navalny posted a photo of a masked police officer outside Belykh’s office on his Twitter Inc. account, asking: “Why are they wearing masks? Are they afraid that Belykh will spray them with gunfire?”

Belykh’s former aide, Maria Gaidar, condemned the police raid on her Twitter account. A leader of the Union of Right Forces, Leonid Gozman, said today he’s been ordered to appear for questioning next week, in comments posted on his blog.

“Are they all after Navalny?” Gozman said.

Navalny, a lawyer who campaigns to expose fraud and waste at state companies, faces as much as 10 years in prison in the three cases.

President Vladimir Putin, 60, who extended his 12-year rule in March 2012 elections, faced unprecedented protests a year ago after tens of thousands of people took to the streets to denounce the Russian leader and alleged parliamentary election fraud.

To contact the reporters on this story: Stepan Kravchenko in Moscow at skravchenko@bloomberg.net; Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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