A former Russian government minister arrested on charges of embezzling $62 million faced possible new drug charges after authorities announced that they found narcotics in his Moscow apartment.
An investigator in the case against Mikhail Abyzov said at a Moscow court hearing on May 23 that tests have confirmed a substance found in Abyzov’s apartment was an illegal narcotic.
An investigator in the case against Abyzov, the former Minister for Open Government Affairs, said at a Moscow court hearing on May 23 that tests have confirmed a substance found in Abyzov’s apartment was an illegal narcotic.
The investigator did not elaborate about the type of substance or the amount that police from Russia's Investigative Committee say they found.
Abyzov's attorney Aleksandr Asnis said the investigators did not mention that Abyzov's fingerprints were not found on a plastic bag containing the substance or that Abyzov was not present when his apartment was searched.
"The investigation's statement that drugs were found in Abyzov's apartment is an attempt to damage our client’s reputation," Asnis said. "This finding doesn't prove anything."
Abyzov’s arrest in late March came as a surprise to Russian political observers.
Some view his case as a warning by Russian security and intelligence agencies to reformist politicians who are linked to former President Dmitry Medvedev.
Abyzov, the former Minister for Open Government Affairs who had been a minister in Medvedev's cabinet from 2012 to 2018, pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.
His May 23 court hearing was considering his appeal against his pretrial detention on charges of fraud, embezzlement, and creating an organized criminal group.
The court has yet to announce its ruling on Abyzov's appeal.
The Investigative Committee charged earlier that Abyzov set up a criminal group in 2011 that eventually embezzled 4 billion rubles (about $62 million) from the Siberian Energy Company and Regional Electric Grid in Novosibirsk.
It has charged that Abyzov and five accomplices stole the money and transferred the funds abroad.
Abyzov served as a cabinet minister between 2012 and 2018. Medvedev served as Russian president between 2008 and 2012 and returned to become prime minister after Putin resumed the presidency in 2012.
As the Minister for Open Government Affairs, Abyzov was responsible for ensuring that the Russian government is transparent and accountable.
Abyzov has also held several executive positions at Russian energy firms since the mid-1990s, including a role on the board of directors at the electric power holding company RAO UES.
In 2017, anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny reported that Abyzov owned a mansion in Italy worth about $11.7 million. Navalny also reported that Abyzov had amassed his wealth through his energy sector connections in Novosibirsk.
Abyzov is one of several liberal-leaning former or current Russian government officials who have been targeted by criminal investigations in recent years.
The 2016 arrest of the economy minister, Aleksei Ulyukayev, was also interpreted as a move by hard-line factions in Russian political circles -- specifically, the head of the state-oil company Rosneft Igor Sechin -- against liberal factions.
Ulyukayev was sentenced in 2017 to eight years in prison.