Prosecutors in the Urals on Friday gave the green light to opening an embezzlement case against prominent local news agency Ura.ru, which is a mouthpiece for controversial anti-drug crusader Yevgeny Roizman.
The case was brought after a police raid halted Ura.ru's operations for a day, in what site management claim is revenge for its criticism of the regional authorities, although police rejected these claims.
A spokesman for Sverdlovsk region police said on Friday that the case was opened to investigate the theft of 10 million rubles ($320,000) from Ura.ru’s account.
The site’s editor-in-chief, Aksana Panova, denied that any money was missing, adding in a statement on Ura.ru that the case was politically motivated.
On Thursday, police searched Ura.ru's offices in Yekaterinburg, and the home of Panova and the site's accountant.
Police also said they confiscated more than 30 rubber stamps allegedly belonging to shell companies connected to Ura.ru. The site's management issued a statement claiming that only seven stamps had been seized, all of them used in the agency’s legitimate operations.
Ura.ru reported Panova as saying: “Everything that’s happening is a revenge attempt for our truthful exposes.”
The site was established in 2006 and is co-owned by Panova and Austrian company BF TEN Holding. It is the most cited regional news agency in the key industrial region of the Urals. It made its reputation by taking on the local authorities, including a succession of governors, prosecutors and police chiefs, and accused the law enforcement agencies of harassing local businesses.
It also staunchly supported Roizman, the former federal legislator behind the controversial City Without Drugs foundation, known for its heavy-handed approach to drug addict treatment and relentless crackdown on drug-related crime in the Urals.
The foundation faced several cases over abuse and even deaths of addicts it was treating. Roizman’s supporters claimed the cases were a pretext to crack down on the group, which is reportedly disliked by the Kremlin due to its founder’s independent stance.
Ura.ru received official warnings over extremist comments left on the site by users in 2008, and faced power-shutdown threats in 2010. In August, Panova sued mobile operator MTS, claiming that it allowed police to wiretap her phone conversations without a court order.