Date: 26 March 2021

Russia’s Governor Hunt: Spring Season Has Begun

The arrest and then the removal of the governor of the Penza region on suspicion of taking a bribe suggests a new wave of criminal cases against senior officials in Russia. Right before the election, the Kremlin seeks to accomplish two goals: show people that the government is ruthlessly pursuing high-level corruption cases and discipline local elites ahead of the State Duma vote in September this year. Targeting the governor of Penza shows that even those officials who are most loyal to the Kremlin cannot feel secure in their positions.

SOURCE: DUMA.GOV.RU

Putin signed a decree dismissing Ivan Belozertsev, the governor of the Penza region, “due to a loss of trust,” on March 23. The day before, a court in Moscow ordered Belozertsev to pretrial detention at least until May 20, 2021. Russia’s Investigative Committee has accused the former governor of the Penza region in the Volga Federal District in central Russia of accepting a bribe worth of 31 million rubles ($420,000). Local businessmen allegedly bribed the governor in exchange for getting the inside track on business agreements with the local government. Several individuals were detained, among whom was Local businessman Boris Shpigel, who heads up the BIOTEK pharmacy group. On March 23, Shpigel was placed in pretrial detention for two months. They pleaded not guilty. Media reports said earlier that the bribes were given to Belozertsev in 2020 and included an expensive Mercedes-Benz automobile, a Breguet watch, and cash.

Belozertsev, 62, is a member of the ruling United Russia party and has led the Penza region since 2015. He made an excellent election result in September 2020 when he won by a landslide, grabbing 78.7 percent of the vote. So the Kremlin is not removing an unpopular leader. Nikolai Simonov was appointed the acting governor of the Penza region. In recent years, several regional governors in Russia have been dismissed, detained, and convicted mostly on corruption charges. These are Nikita Belykh, the governor of the Kirov region, Aleksandr Khoroshavin, the head of the Sakhalin region, and Vyacheslav Gayzer, the governor of the Komi Republic. The most high-profile case was the arrest of the governor of the Far Eastern Khabarovsk region, Sergei Furgal. Furgal was charged with being involved in several murders that took place in the past decade. His detainment sparked rallies in the region.

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