A court in Moscow has ruled to lock up a provincial governor pending an investigation on charges of his involvement in multiple murders.
Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region along the border with China, was arrested in Khabarovsk on Thursday and flown to Moscow for interrogation that lasted nearly until midnight.
On Friday, the Basmanny District Court ruled he should be held behind bars for two months as the investigation continues.
The Investigative Committee, the nation’s main criminal investigation agency, said Furgal is accused of involvement in the murders of several businessmen in the region and nearby territories in 2004 and 2005.
The 50-year-old governor has denied the charges, which date back to the period before he launched his political career when he was a businessman with interests ranging from imports of consumer goods to timber and metals
Before defeating a Kremlin-backed rival to win the governor’s seat in 2018, Furgal served in the Duma for the Liberal-Democratic Party for a decade.
In 2015-2016, he headed the public health committee in the lower house of Parliament.
The Liberal-Democratic Party, led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has long been a fixture in the tightly-controlled Russian political system and voted along with the Kremlin’s wishes.
While Furgal has never challenged Government policy like the rest of his party, his unexpected victory reflected growing public frustration with President Vladimir Putin’s policies and marked a painful setback for the main Kremlin party, United Russia.
Russian media reports said Furgal had promised the Kremlin he would step down if he won the governor’s seat but broke his pledge, and his highly-placed foes have taken revenge.
The arrest of Furgal, who has remained widely popular in his region, has stoked broad discontent, with a petition protesting his arrest quickly getting more than 37,000 signatures and residents of Khabarovsk staging pickets in his support.
It also provoked an unusual angry outburst from Mr Zhirinovsky, who accused officials of fabricating the case against Frugal to sideline his party and even compared his arrest to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s purges.
“You are sitting in your high offices and acting like in Stalin’s times,” he said in a fiery speech before the lower house.
Mr Zhirinovsky also said Thursday that Furgal was targeted because he resisted pressure from corrupt officials who were extorting “caseloads of cash” from him.
Asked about the claims, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he could face a lawsuit if he fails to back up his allegations.
Mr Peskov also dismissed analogies with Stalinist repressions, saying “we consider them incorrect”.