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Makhachkala Mayor Arrested In Murder Investigation

Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov (file photo)
Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov (file photo)
Makhachkala mayor Said Amirov, whom a recent opinion poll showed would have beaten acting Republic of Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov in a direct election for republic head, has been arrested at his home.

He was taken into custody on June 1 and transported by military helicopter to Moscow for questioning about his suspected involvement in the murder in December 2011 of Investigative Committee official Arsen Gadzhibekov in Kaspiisk.

That killing was one of several that the federal Investigative Committee launched an investigation into a few months ago.

A court in Moscow has since ordered that Amirov be held in pretrial detention for two months.

A statement from the federal Investigative Committee on June 2 said that mayor would be charged "within 10 days."

Ten of Amirov’s subordinates have also been detained, as has Amirov’s nephew, Deputy Kaspiisk Mayor Yusup Dzhafarov.

Amirov, 59, was first elected mayor in 1998. He has survived over a dozen assassination attempts, one of which, in 1993, left him paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.

Under his watch, the population of the capital has doubled from 350,000 in 1989 to some 700,000; at the same time, its economy has taken off. Amirov recalled four years ago that while in 1998, 88 percent of the city’s budget comprised subsidies from the republic's budget, by 2009 it was a net donor, contributing 4 billion rubles annually to the republic's budget. At the same time, the municipality ran up eye-watering unpaid debts for electricity.

In addition, according to Amirov, the city has almost zero unemployment. The UN's International Labor Organization estimates the unemployment rate for the republic as a whole to be 12.8 percent; but in some districts it is far higher.

Efficient, pragmatic, blunt, and ruthless, in April Amirov was named the best mayor in Russia.

He has long been regarded as "more than just a mayor" and has been touted by some as a potential republic head.

Nonetheless, he was passed over in 2006 when longtime ruler Magomedali Magomedov retired, seemingly either because he had incurred the displeasure of then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, or because of his ethnicity: like Magomedov, Amirov is a Dargin (the second-largest of the republic’s 14 constitutionally acknowledged ethnic groups), and on Magomedov’s retirement the post apparently passed by unwritten agreement to an Avar, Mukhu Aliyev.

The Avars, of whom Abdulatipov is one, are the largest ethnic group, accounting for some 29 percent of the total population of approximately 3 million.

In early 2010, when Aliyev’s presidential term was about to expire, Amirov was again spoken of as a possible successor, and a campaign was launched to support him, but his name was not included on the short list of six candidates that Daghestan’s parliament submitted to President Dmitry Medvedev.

The post went to another Dargin, Magomedov’s ineffective son Magomedsalam, whom Putin dismissed in January, two years before his term expired.

Rumors of Amirov’s imminent retirement began circulating in late March, two months after Abdulatipov’s appointment as Magomedsalam Magomedov’s successor.

Asked recently about his working relationship with Abdulatipov, Amirov stressed that it is incumbent on all the republic’s officials to support the new head of the republic.

At the same time, Amirov came out unequivocally in favor of direct elections for the post of republic head, and clearly considers himself more than qualified for that post. He affirmed in a recent interview that "perhaps others speak better than I do and have other qualities of a public politician that I lack, but I know better than anyone what Daghestan wants, what its people want, what the population of Makhachkala wants."

Whether Putin construed that statement as an open challenge to Abdulatipov, and the murder charge is simply a convenient pretext to disarm Amirov, is impossible to say at this juncture.

However, given Amirov’s reputation as head of one of the republic’s most powerful clans, the news of his arrest is unlikely to have raised any eyebrows among the population of a polity where contract killings are simply the continuation of local politics by other means.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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