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Top Kemerovo Official In Custody Over Deadly Mall Fire

Aleksandr Mamontov attends a court hearing in Kemerovo on May 26.

A Russian court has ordered the head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's branch in the Kemerovo region be kept in pretrial detention for two months in connection with a shopping-mall fire that killed dozens of people in March.

Kemerovo's Central District Court made the ruling on May 28, days after Aleksandr Mamontov was detained by investigators and later charged with negligence and embezzlement.

Mamontov says he is innocent of the criminal charges.

According to Russia's Investigative Committee, Mamontov and other officials at the ministry did not conduct any review of the Zimnyaya Vishnya (Winter Cherry) mall's compliance with fire-safety requirements in 2017-18, although an inspection should have been carried out by March 18, 2018, it added.

The committee said Mamontov and other unidentified persons were also involved in embezzling around 2 million rubles ($16,200) from the budget of the Emergency Situations Ministry's regional branch.

Russian officials say 60 people were killed on March 25 in the fire in Kemerovo, including many children -- one of the deadliest blazes in the history of post-Soviet Russia.

Residents, relatives of the victims, and Russians nationwide blamed corruption and government negligence for the high number of casualties in the blaze.

Days after the fire, investigators said that blocked fire exits, an alarm system that was turned off, and "glaring violations" of safety rules before the blaze started led to the high death toll.

A total of 10 people have been arrested in the case, including the head of the local building-inspection agency and an executive with the firm that owns the shopping mall.