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The Almaty City Court issued its verdict in absentia on November 1.
The Almaty City Court issued its verdict in absentia on November 1.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A court in Almaty has upheld the sentences of three leaders of a Protestant church who were found guilty of fraud and other charges and are currently living in self-imposed exile in the United States.

The Almaty City Court ruled on November 1 that the prison terms of Maksim Maksimov, his wife Lyudmila Maksimova, and Sergei Zaikin, all Kazakh citizens, must remain unchanged.

The three leaders of the New Life Church were tried in absentia in July.

Maksimov was sentenced to five years in prison while his wife and Zaikin were given four years each after a court in Almaty found them guilty of fraud, inflicting damage to health, and the creation of and participation in illegal public groups.

The court also ruled that their property be confiscated and banned Maksimov from leading religious groups.

The probe was launched after some church members accused the three of deceiving them, resulting in "material, moral, and health damages."

Lawyer Aiman Omarova, who represented the Maksimovs and Zaikin, said at the hearing that her clients' activities were not criminal and their convictions were unfounded.

About 70 percent of Kazakhstan's 18-million population are Muslim, and about 26 percent are Russian Orthodox, by far the largest Christian denomination.

Although freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Kazakh Constitution, there have been several cases in which followers of religions considered "nontraditional" have been sentenced to prison terms on charges of inciting discord or conducting illegal missionary activities.

Montenegrin Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism Pavle Radulovic announced his resignation on November 1.
Montenegrin Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism Pavle Radulovic announced his resignation on November 1.

PODGORICA -- Montenegro's minister of sustainable development and tourism is stepping down after a video emerged appearing to show inspectors from his ministry taking a bribe.

Pavle Radulovic announced on November 1 that he would resign over the incident, saying he had "failed to eradicate this kind of behavior."

In a video broadcast on TV Vijesti the previous day, the alleged inspectors are heard demanding a kickback from a businessmen who wants to continue construction of a building in the town of Budva despite the expiration of his permit.

Radulovic, who has been in office since 2016, told a press conference in Podgorica that disciplinary proceedings were already under way before the video was leaked, but that no one had been punished.

The minister said he had "initiated a new procedure against the two men this morning," adding: "I hope it will be more successful than the previous one."

He also said the inspectors had been suspended.

In a letter to Montenegro’s Prosecutorial Council, Prime Minister Dusko Markovic complained about the lack of reaction from prosecutors after police submitted the case to the State Prosecutor's Office.

The lawyer of businessman Bosko Nenezic said his client, who secretly recorded the video in July 2018, was the victim of extortion by two officials from the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism.

The filmed encounter suggests Nenezic gave the ministry inspectors 5,000 euros ($5,600).

His lawyer, Nikola Kavedzic, said that prior to that meeting his client had already handed over 5,000 euros to one of the inspectors.

Graft and organized crime are plaguing the Adriatic country, which aspires to become a member of the European Union.

Early this year, thousands of people took to the streets of Montenegro's capital to demand the resignation of President Milo Djukanovic and other government and judiciary officials they accuse of turning a blind eye to corruption.

With reporting by AFP

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