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Russian Regional Governor Fired After Bribery Charge

Penza Governor Ivan Belozertsev (right) appears in court on March 22.
Penza Governor Ivan Belozertsev (right) appears in court on March 22.

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed one of his staunch supporters, the governor of the Penza region in the Volga Federal District, after he was arrested on suspicion of taking a bribe.

Putin signed a decree dismissing Ivan Belozertsev, "due to a loss of trust," on March 23. Russia's Investigative Committee has accused Belozertsev of accepting a bribe worth of 31 million rubles ($420,000).

The day before, a court in Moscow ordered Belozertsev to pretrial detention at least until May 20.

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.

On March 23, the 68-year-old Shpigel was placed in pretrial detention for two months as well.

Belozertsev, 62, is a member of the ruling United Russia party and has led the Penza region since 2015.

Media reports said earlier that the bribes were given to Belozertsev in 2020 and included an expensive Mercedes-Benz automobile, a Breguet watch, and cash.

On March 22, Russian news agencies quoted sources close to the investigation as saying that Belozertsev, Shpigel, and others detained in the case had pleaded not guilty.

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 region, Sergei Furgal, in July 2020 that sparked ongoing protests in the region.

Furgal was charged with being involved in several murders that took place more than 10 years ago and dismissed. He and his supporters reject the charges, calling the case politically motivated.

Furgal, of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, was elected in 2018 in a runoff that he won handily against a longtime incumbent of the ruling United Russia party.

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