A Russian court has ordered a former Russian cabinet minister seen as an ally of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev held in pretrial detention until June 25 on embezzlement charges after his arrest a year ago.
The Moscow City Court said on March 25 that it was extending the detention by three months of Mikhail Abyzov, who has pleaded not guilty and says he’s willing to cooperate with the investigation.
Abyzov’s arrest in March 2019 surprised close watchers of Russian politics, who saw it as another warning sign by Russian security and intelligence agencies against liberal-leaning political figures, many of whom are linked to Medvedev.
The Investigative Committee has said that Abyzov was allegedly involved in a criminal group that embezzled 4 billion rubles (about $62 million) from the Siberian Energy Company and Regional Electric Grid in Novosibirsk. Investigators alleged that Abyzov and five accomplices stole the money and transferred the funds abroad.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that President Vladimir Putin was informed in advance about suspicions against Abyzov.
Abyzov served as a cabinet minister between 2012 and 2018 and is considered a close associate of Medvedev, who was president between 2008 and 2012.
After Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, Medvedev again become prime minister. Abyzov retained his position in Medvedev's government until last year.
Investigators allege that Abyzov founded the criminal enterprise in April 2011 -- a year before he was appointed as minister for open government affairs, whose duties included trying to make the Russian government transparent and accountable.
Abyzov had also held several executive positions at major 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, anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny reported that Abyzov owns a mansion in Italy worth about $11.7 million. Navalny reported that Abyzov amassed his wealth through his energy sector connections in Novosibirsk.
Abyzov is one of several liberal-leaning former or current government officials who have been targeted in criminal investigations in recent years.
The 2016 arrest of Economics 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 to eight years in a prison camp in 2017.
The Russian Investigative Committee has detained three other suspects as a result of the criminal investigation surrounding Abyzov, while a fourth suspect is at large abroad.