As reported on this blog yesterday by our guest journalist Grigory Pasko, a number of city mayors in Russia have increasingly come under aggressive investigations by the procuracy in a campaign that Pasko describes as “clearing the way” for the installation of FSB plants to manage pipeline projects. Today, Pasko was proven correct in at least one aspect, as Vladivostok Mayor Vladimir Nikolayev was stripped of his authority by prosecutors who accuse him of illegally doling out land plots. The Associated Press reports:
“In this connection, prosecutors of the city Vladivostok have protested 20 illegal decisions on land allocation,” prosecutors said in a statement. Irina Nomokonova, a regional prosecutor’s office, said in televised comments that Nikolayev had also allegedly misspent city budget fund, authorizing some $765,000 to back a car racing team. Prosecutors said five other related criminal investigation have also been opened, including of the city’s deputy mayor. Interfax, citing unidentified sources, said the funds allegedly embezzled by Nikolayev and other top city officials topped $3 million. Nikolayev, was backed by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, won the mayoralty in 2004 after a scandal-plagued campaign atmosphere, in which candidates traded accusations and resorted to underhanded methods to beat their opponents. His opponent in the 2004 race was Viktor Cherepkov, who was also accused of corruption and incompetence during his tenure as mayor in the 1990s and who waged often epic political battles with the governor of the Primorsky region, Yevgeny Nazdratenko. Nikolayev – a businessman whose criminal nickname allegedly was Winnie the Pooh – was arrested in 1998 and accused of making threats, hooliganism and extortion, but he was amnestied and freed a year later under a decree by the lower house of parliament. In Vladivostok’s main square, dozens protested the court decision to strip Nikolayev of his authority. Several carried signs reading “Hands Off The Mayor” and “How Much Does It Cost to Remove Nikolayev?” At a televised news conference, Nikolayev said he would fight the charges. “This is all completely made up. The evidence shows not one shred of proof, not one bank which could show this,” he said.