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Former Russian deputy Sergei Petrov

Russian investigators have opened a criminal probe into a former lawmaker who clashed with the Kremlin about its policies in Ukraine and other places.

The federal Investigative Committee said in a statement on June 27 that Sergei Petrov was accused of illegally siphoning off 4 billion rubles ($63.5 million) out of Russia in 2014.

Others under investigation include some of the managers at his foreign car dealership business, Rolf, which Petrov founded and built into one of Russia's national largest dealership companies.

The committee said investigators raided the company's offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg and questioned Rolf employees.

Petrov served as a lawmaker in Russia's parliament between 2007 and 2016, and was one of the few independent-minded deputies in what is widely considered a rubber-stamp body.

Among other things, he did not take part in a parliamentary vote on the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Petrov told Ekho Moskvy radio that the case against him could be part of a "hostile takeover" or maybe a politically motivated attack.

He also said he was out of the country and would not be returning.

The probe is the latest in a series of investigations that have targeted top Russian business leaders accused of crimes motivated by commercial or political interests.

Earlier this week, another prominent businessman, David Yakobashvili, told the Interfax news agency that he did not plan to return to Russia after security services searched his art gallery.

Yakobashvili, who launched a successful fruit juice and beverage company in the 1990s and later expanded into oil and real estate, told Interfax that he planned to investigate the incident.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service and AFP
A video purportedly shows the torture of a prison inmate in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

One in every 10 Russians has experienced torture at the hands of law enforcement, according to a new poll released to coincide with the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26.

The poll by independent Russian pollster Levada Center, which was commissioned by the UN-affiliated Committee Against Torture, found that 60 percent of Russians view torture under any circumstances as impermissible, while 30 percent approve of it in specific cases, including against a serious criminal or to help save a life.

Of those who claimed to have experienced torture, 75 percent said it was aimed at humiliating or intimidating them.

"A significant proportion of people perceive courts and law enforcement agencies as a system that protects mainly the interests of the authorities or groups close to it," the report says.

Results of the survey, which included 3,400 respondents in 53 Russian regions, were first published by the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant on June 26.

The poll comes amid increased scrutiny over Russia's treatment of prisoners following several high-profile cases which have shed light on the use of torture by police.

It also comes after United Nations human rights investigators called on Russia last year to halt frequent torture of detainees and prosecute perpetrators.

In February, the Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious group banned in the country since 2017, alleged that at least seven of its members in the Siberian city of Surgut had been subjected to torture involving stun guns and suffocation by police.

In March, independent Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta posted videos appearing to show evidence of inmates being tortured and abused by guards at a prison in the city of Yaroslavl.

Similar scenes of torture, including videos depicting an inmate being beaten by at least 17 guards at the city's Corrective Colony No. 1, were shown in a separate video released in 2018.

A public outcry over that video led to the arrest of at least 15 guards and the former warden of the prison.

Speaking during his daily call-in with journalists on June 26, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, declined to comment on the results of the survey since the Kremlin had yet to scrutinize them.

"We must very carefully analyze what kind of survey this is," he said. "What the sample is, what exact question was asked. Using the language of sociologists, what methodology was used."

Peskov also elicited surprise by appearing to question the journalists -- including Western reporters dialed in to the call -- on whether they could substantiate the statistics.

"We have around 30 people on this conference call, right? Right," he said. "Who has experienced torture from representatives of law enforcement? Identify yourselves."

With reporting from Meduza and Kommersant

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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