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Hailed To Handcuffed: Putin-Feted Surgeon Accused Of Removing A Billion From The Coffers

Heart surgeon Yevgeny Pokushalov (left) with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in June 2017

Novosibirsk cardiologist Yevgeny Pokushalov briefly outlined his achievements during a February 2018 banquet for finalists of the Russian government's Leaders of Russia competition in the Kremlin.

"I am a doctor of science, a professor, and a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences," Pokusalov told an attentive President Vladimir Putin, according to a transcript and video posted on the presidential website.

"And how old are you?" the president inquired.

"I am 43."

"When did you manage to do all that?" Putin asked, as the rest of the gathering chuckled.

"I didn't manage anything special," Pokushalov said modestly. "I just did my work, did my science, adopted innovations, and everything came to me by itself."

Putin concluded by saying Pokushalov was "a very successful person." The cardiologist had also received a presidential science award from Putin in 2017.

But now, prosecutors in Novosibirsk say Pokushalov found time for at least two more activities -- embezzling nearly 1.3 billion rubles ($20 million) from the medical research center where he is deputy director and money laundering. He was detained on February 20.

In February 2018, Pokushalov was dining in the Kremlin with Putin. A year later, he is in jail facing embezzlement charges.
In February 2018, Pokushalov was dining in the Kremlin with Putin. A year later, he is in jail facing embezzlement charges.

Pokushalov appeared in a closed-door hearing in Novosibirsk on February 22 at which the judge rejected a defense request for house arrest and remanded him to custody for two months pending trial. The court reportedly concluded that Pokushalov should be held in jail because he might flee or destroy evidence.

Another local news site reported that the judge said Pokushalov was a flight risk because he has relatives, property, and "solid connections" in the United States.

The local Sibnet Info website quoted Pokushalov's boss, Meshalkin National Medical Research Center (NMITs) Director Aleksandr Karaskov, as saying Pokushalov's arrest was an "outrage."

He added that Pokushalov has saved "tens of thousands of lives" and that the young doctor's research was "dynamite for science."

The arrest has stunned many in the scientific community and nearly 1,500 people, including many of Pokushalov's NMITs co-workers, have signed an online petition supporting him and calling on the court to show "humanity, justice, and legality" in handling the case.

Details of the allegations against Pokushalov, now 44, have not been released, but the daily Kommersant reported on February 21 that they may involve "a cartel arrangement with suppliers to the clinic."

Karaskov said Pokushalov was not involved in procurement matters.

The independent Dozhd television reported that the case against Pokushalov was developed by the local branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Pokushalov's detention came literally as Putin was delivering his annual state-of-the-nation address in Moscow on February 20. Dozhd reported the next day, citing several unnamed sources "informed about the drafts of the speech," that Putin originally planned to speak at some length about the Leaders of Russia program and other government initiatives for young people, including the My First Business and I Am A Professional grant programs.

But that section of the speech was eliminated at the last moment. Some of the Dozhd sources said the change was a result of Pokushalov's impending arrest, while others said it was just a matter of last-minute adjustments.

The Meshalkin NMITs is a leading medical-research center in Russia that specializes in heart and cardiovascular diseases.

Pokushalov, a native of Tomsk, held residencies in hospitals in France, Germany, and Italy in the early 2000s, according to his page on the Russian version of Wikipedia.

He is the author of more than 300 scientific articles.