A Russian mayor who won a landslide victory against a candidate backed by President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party last year was detained by police on suspicion of demanding a 14 million-ruble ($421,000) kickback.
Yaroslavl Mayor Yevgeny Urlashov and two deputies threatened to stop payments to a local businessman for a municipal trash-removal contract unless the bribe was paid, according to statements released by the Interior Ministry and the Investigative Committee. Urlashov told TV Rain that the case is politically motivated and accusations against him were made by a member of Putin’s United Russia party.
Urlashov planned to head billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform party ticket in September elections in the region, which lies 250 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Moscow. He’s being held for 48 hours awaiting a decision on possible arrest, state television channel Rossiya 24 reported.
“The demonstrative capture of the popularly elected head of the city is a strike against the civil rights and freedom of every Russian,” Prokhorov said on his LiveJournal blog today. “Civic Platform demands a public explanation from law enforcement as to why they adopted such drastic measures against the city head.”
Police found $500,000 stashed in Urlashov’s apartment building, the state-run news service RIA Novosti reported, adding that the kickback was part of a 45 million-ruble bribe demanded from the contractor. Speaking on TV Rain, Urlashov denied that anything was found or removed during the raid.
Officers in camouflage and masks stopped Urlashov’s car near 1 a.m. as he was returning from a meeting with delegates of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, RIA reported, citing the mayor’s press secretary, Svetlana Ufimova. He was carried away without explanation, she said, according to the news service.
Putin has hardened his response against critics since winning a third term in the Kremlin last year after the biggest protests of his political career. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who’s running for mayor of Moscow in September, is on trial in a fraud case he says is politically motivated. Economist Sergei Guriev and former chess world champion Garry Kasparov have left Russia for fear of being detained.
The president has tried to turn the table on his opponents after United Russia was rocked by corruption scandals involving senior lawmakers. Speaking April 25 about cases including Navalny’s, Putin said everyone is equal under the law and those fighting corruption should be “crystal clear themselves, otherwise it assumes a form of self-serving PR and political advertising.”
Navalny said on his blog that a meeting is planned for tonight to support the mayor in Yaroslavl, a city of almost 600,000. He pointed to data showing that about 90 percent of mayors who won against United Russia candidates have been arrested or removed from office. Prokhorov, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets, plans to visit Yaroslavl July 7 to support Urlashov, according to an e-mailed statement.
Another high-profile regional politician, the mayor of Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, was arrested last month in connection with a murder of a state investigator.
In October, Putin’s allies dominated Russia’s first gubernatorial elections in eight years, polls opposition parties said were marred by abuses. United Russia’s candidates won all five races for governor and six local legislative contests.