July 9, 2020 / 7:03 AM / a month ago

Russia detains governor, accusing him of murdering entrepreneurs

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian security forces on Thursday detained a regional governor who staged an election upset against the country’s ruling party in the Far East in 2018 and accused him of organising the murder of several entrepreneurs 15 years ago.

Masked agents in camouflage pulled Sergei Furgal, the governor of Khabarovsk region, out of his vehicle before putting him in a van, footage published by the Investigative Committee, which styles itself as a Russian version of the FBI, showed.

Furgal would be charged shortly, the agency said in a statement. He could face up to life in prison, if found guilty of the allegations dating from 2004-2005 that also included attempted murder.

The agency did not detail the alleged crimes, but said four members of an organised crime group had already been detained and that people involved in the murders had provided evidence against him.

It was not immediately possible to identify a lawyer for Furgal to seek comment.

Furgal, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party known as the LDPR and a former lawmaker, was popular in the Pacific region where he swept to power in 2018 after defeating a rival from the ruling United Russia party that backs President Vladimir Putin.

The LDPR is also supportive of Putin, but Furgal’s victory was seen as a blow to the ruling party’s grip on power in the regions.

The arrest is likely to fuel fears of a mounting wave of repression following last week’s adoption of sweeping constitutional reforms that clear the way for Putin, if re-elected, to serve two more terms in the Kremlin until 2036.

Abbas Gallyamov, a political analyst, said the arrest also served as a warning shot to opposition forces planning to challenge the ruling party at regional elections this September.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the LDPR’s head, threatened to have his party and allies in parliament resign their posts in protest.

“We gave you the constitution. And you’re putting us in handcuffs!” he said.

Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Frances Kerry

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