Ivan Belozertsev, the governor of Russia's Penza region and a vocal supporter of President Vladimir Putin, has been arrested and sent to pretrial detention for two months on corruption charges.
The Basmanny district court in Moscow ruled on March 22 that Belozertsev must remain in pretrial detention until at least May 20.
The Investigative Committee has accused Belozertsev of accepting a bribe worth of 31 million rubles ($420,000).
A local businessman Boris Shpigel, who heads up the BIOTEK pharmacy group, and several other individuals whose identities were not disclosed, were detained on suspicion of bribing Belozertsev in exchange for getting the inside track on business agreements with the local government.
Belozertsev, a member of the ruling United Russia party, has led the Penza region in the Volga Federal District since 2015.
Media reports said earlier that the bribes were given to Belozertsev in 2020 and included an expensive Mercedes car, a Breguet watch, and cash.
On March 22, Russian news agencies quoted sources close to the investigation as saying that Belozertsev, Shpigel, and other people detained in the case had pleaded not guilty.
A resident of Penza, the region’s largest city and administrative center, told RFE/RL that he and “many other friends” believe Belozertsev is innocent of the charges against him.
“We are unshaken in supporting him. We hope that law-enforcement bodies will examine all of this and that he will continue to work in his position as the governor of Penza,” he added.
Another resident who said he “didn't like him at all as governor,” said Belozertsev “hasn't done absolutely anything [good].”
“Under his rule, prices have gone up, there are no jobs anymore, and the young people who have jobs are like slaves -- they cannot say a word."
In recent years, several regional governors in Russia have been convicted on corruption charges.
The most high-profile case was the arrest of the governor of the Far Eastern Khabarovsk Krai region, Sergei Furgal, in July last year that sparked ongoing protests in the region.
Furgal was charged with being involved in several murders that took place more than 10 years ago. He and his supporters reject the charges, calling the case politically motivated. He was dismissed from the post after his arrest.
Furgal, of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, was elected in 2018 in a runoff that he won handily against the region’s longtime incumbent of the ruling United Russia party.