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Russian Ex-Governor Given Eight Years In High-Profile Bribery Case


Nikita Belykh, shown here in a Moscow courtroom on February 1, pleaded not guilty and called the charges "absurd."
Nikita Belykh, shown here in a Moscow courtroom on February 1, pleaded not guilty and called the charges "absurd."

A Moscow court has sentenced former Kirov Oblast Governor Nikita Belykh to eight years in prison following his conviction on bribery charges.

The court on February 1 also ordered Belykh to pay a 48.5 million ruble ($866,000) fine in the high-profile case. Belykh was also barred from holding public office for an additional three years. The time Belykh has served in custody since his arrest in July 2016 will be taken into consideration.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Belykh, a former opposition party leader, to 10 years in prison. The court said it considered Belykh's clean record, the fact that he has young children, and his numerous state awards as mitigating factors.

"The court has established that Belykh, as a government official, received a bribe for actions or the absence of actions benefitting the bribe-giver," Judge Tatyana Vasyuchenko told the court.

Immediately after the sentencing, the Prosecutor-General's Office posted on social media that it is considering whether to appeal the sentence. Defense lawyer Andrei Grokhotov told journalists Belykh will appeal his conviction.

Belykh was accused of accepting bribes amounting to over 600,000 euros between March 2012 and June 2016, when he was detained in a Moscow restaurant. He is accused of sheltering various timber investment projects in exchange for the bribes.

The court on February 1 acquitted Belykh on just one of the charges relating to an alleged 200,000 euro bribe offered in March 2012.

He pleaded not guilty and has called the charges "absurd," saying he was the victim of a "banal provocation" by law enforcement authorities. After his arrest, federal investigators published a photo of a man they said was Belykh sitting at a table covered with stacks of 100-euro notes.

Belykh was appointed Kirov Oblast governor in 2008 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, who was steered into the Kremlin by Vladimir Putin earlier that year and pursued relatively liberal policies that were rolled back when Putin -- after four years as prime minister -- returned to the presidency in 2012.

Belykh is one of the highest-ranking officials to be arrested in office since Putin was first elected president in 2000.

The trial began in September and several of the most recent hearings have been held in Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina remand prison because Belykh, 43, was undergoing treatment for high blood pressure.

In an hourlong final statement to the court on January 26, Belykh said his guilt had not been proven during the investigation or the trial. He said he wanted to go home to his wife and four children, and hoped the court would make "a just decision."

At a court hearing on January 9, defense lawyers were denied permission to recall businessman Albert Laritsky, a key witness, to the stand.

Belykh's lawyers said Laritsky had told the former governor that he had made false statements in his testimony in October because he had been threatened by prosecutors. According to Belykh, Laritsky had apologized and told him the he was ready to "tell the truth."

Before serving as Kirov governor, Belykh was a deputy governor of Perm Oblast, the leader of the center-right Union of Rightist Forces, and a lawmaker in the Perm Oblast Legislative Assembly.

He conducted several political campaigns in opposition to Putin's policies and was sharply criticized by liberals such as former ally Boris Nemtsov -- who was assassinated in February 2015 -- when he accepted Medvedev's appointment.

Putin fired Belykh in July 2016, shortly after his arrest.

In December, a Moscow court sentenced former Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev to eight years in prison in a similar high-profile bribery case. Ulyukayev was the highest-ranking government official to be arrested since the Stalin era.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Mediazona, Novaya Gazeta, and TASS
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