Russian investigators search liberal governor's office

MOSCOW Tue Jan 29, 2013 1:28pm GMT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian investigators on Tuesday searched the office of a liberal regional governor who has connections with opponents of President Vladimir Putin as part of a criminal investigation.

The federal Investigative Committee said the search of the office of Nikita Belykh, governor of the Kirov region northeast of Moscow, was over the alleged sale of a stake in a state distillery at half its real value.

"Belykh will be questioned on issues of interest to the investigation," it added in a statement.

Police, the FSB security forces and federal investigators were searching for documents related to the sale of a 25.5 percent share in the Urzhum distillery at more than 90 million roubles (1.9 million pounds) below its value, it said.

Belykh could not immediately be reached for comment. A former moderate opposition party leader, he was appointed governor in 2009 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev. Putin returned to the presidency in May.

Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger who has helped organise protests against Putin, used to work as an adviser to Belykh and has been charged with large-scale theft over the sale of timber while he was working in the Kirov region.

Navalny faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted but denies any wrongdoing. Opposition leaders accuse the Kremlin of using the judiciary to put pressure on Putin's critics but the president's spokesman has denied this.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska)

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