MOSCOW, July 4 (RIA Novosti) – An opposition politician who won a rare landslide victory against the ruling United Russia party in a mayoral election last year was charged along with four of his colleagues on Thursday with extorting a 14 million ruble ($420,000) bribe, investigators said.
Yaroslavl Mayor Yevgeny Urlashov, who was detained in the early hours of Wednesday morning, denies the charges, describing them as “political games.”
Deputy Mayor Dmitry Donskov, mayoral adviser Alexei Lopatin and the head of municipal contracts, Maxim Poikalainen, were also charged with extorting a large bribe, while local resident Andrei Zakharov is charged with attempting to act as a middle-man for a corruption scheme, the Investigative Committee said in a statement published on its website Wednesday.
The five men, who remain in police custody, are alleged to have attempted to force the director of a company to pay a series of kickbacks after his firm was hired by the city to provide cleaning services. Urlashov, Donskov, Lopatin and Poikalainen each face sentences of up to 15 years in prison.
Investigators, who said that in ongoing property searches they have confiscated 35 million rubles ($1 million) apparently belonging to Urlashov, also warned that more criminal charges were likely to emerge.
“We believe that this [extortion of a bribe] is not the only illegal action committed by the mayor of Yaroslavl. Investigators are already checking information about Mr. Urlashov’s receipt of the first tranche of a multimillion-ruble bribe from another businessman,” the Investigative Committee said. “We don’t exclude that the number of instances in this criminal case will increase.”
Speaking on Thursday at a court hearing to determine immediate legal measures against him, Urlashov maintained his innocence. "How could I take money from someone I've always criticized," he said.
Urlashov was a member of the ruling United Russia party from 2008 to 2011, but he later joined the opposition and beat the ruling United Russia candidate in Yaroslavl's April 2012 mayoral election. Urlashov was supported by hundreds of opposition activists from Moscow who came to the city, 160 miles (250 kilometers) to the northeast, and who were energized by the rare opposition victory.
Now a member of billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform political party, Urlashov’s arrest came the day after the announcement that he would top Civic Platform's list of candidates in September regional parliamentary elections.
Prokhorov, who owns the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, said Thursday that he would submit a petition for Urlashov not to be kept under arrest, and would be willing to pay his bail.