MOSCOW, July 3 (RIA Novosti) - Russian investigators have detained a mayor accused of taking bribes and launched a criminal case against him, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday, just over a year after he scored a rare landslide victory over the ruling United Russia party.
Yaroslavl Mayor Yevgeny Urlashov, who was elected to his post last April, together with three of his staff extorted a bribe of 45 million rubles [$1.4 million] from the director of a company who had been contracted by the central Russian city for cleaning services, the ministry said.
“The businessman won the first tender worth 250 million rubles for six months, by which time he was already starting to get hints about paying a kickback,” the Interior Ministry press office said.
Six months later, the businessman won a second tender worth 503 million rubles, after which Urlashov and his subordinates demanded a kickback for the two tenders equaling 6 percent of the total sum paid to his company, or 45 million rubles, the ministry said.
The mayor and his subordinates openly told the businessman he owed them money and all the conversations were recorded, the ministry said.
According to the Interior Ministry, the businessman transferred the first tranche of 14 million rubles to a person close to the mayor’s advisor. Half of this sum was intended for the mayor and the other half for his subordinates.
The mayor’s advisor, who was supposed to pass the bribe money from the intermediary to the mayor, has gone on the run, a source close to the investigation told RIA Novosti.
“A search is currently underway to find him [the mayor’s advisor]. A criminal case has also been opened against him on counts of an attempt of taking a bribe,” the source said.
Urlashov has denied the accusations against him, dismissing the charges as “political games.” The Interior Ministry has called for the case not to be politicized and insists it is the result of a routine criminal investigation.
A member of the ruling United Russia party in 2008-2011, Urlashov, who later became a candidate for the opposition, achieved a landslide victory in the city’s April 2012 mayoral elections over a United Russia candidate. A member of billionaire-turned-politician Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform party, he planned to head the party’s list at the September 8, 2013 elections to the Yaroslavl regional parliament.
The police confirmed on Wednesday they had detained the mayor late on Tuesday night. An Investigative Committee spokeswoman said searches were underway at the homes of Urlashov and his subordinates.
Urlashov's arrest came a day after he held a working meeting on Tuesday with a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation to discuss the political situation in the region and the city. PACE has previously been critical of human rights issues in Russia, and has in return been accused by Moscow of political bias in its reporting.
Updated with details throughout and mayor’s denial of wrongdoing.