Russian regional governor facing time behind bars on corruption charges after allegedly accepting $415k bribe from pharma company

Russia’s Penza Region governor has been remanded in custody after being accused of taking a bribe from Biotek, a Russian pharmaceutical company. The alleged bribe was reportedly paid in part with a Mercedes V250D car and a watch.

Governor Ivan Belozertsev is the latest in a long line of regional chiefs to be arrested in the last few years. Belozertsev was a member of the United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin. The former governor’s party membership was revoked after his arrest.

According to investigators, Belozertsev received a bribe of 31 million rubles ($415,000) from Boris Spiegel, the head of pharmaceutical company Biotek, in return for “competitive advantages” for their work in the region. Spiegel’s wife Evgenia was also implicated, as well as Anton Koloskov, the head of a local chain of pharmacies.

It is also alleged that the bribes were partially received in the form of a Mercedes V250D car and a Breguet watch.

From January to October 2020, medical institutions in Penza signed almost 300 contracts with the company, totaling an amount of over 700 million rubles ($9,000,000).

According to Moscow daily Kommersant, around 500 million rubles ($6,600,000) were found in cash during the search of the governor’s home. The newspaper also reported that the investigation decided to look into all of Belozertsev’s financial and economic activities since he was elected in 2015 and discovered irregularities in the amount of around 2.9 billion rubles ($38,000,000).

News agency Interfax, citing a source, also claimed that Belozertsev’s conversations have been wiretapped.

According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin may dismiss the Penza Governor due to loss of trust, but, so far, no decision has been made.

“[Putin] is aware of what happened,” Peskov explained. “As for the substance of the case and the charges brought, that’s a matter for the law-enforcement agencies at the moment.”

According to Russia’s criminal code, bribe-taking can be punished with a sentence of up to fifteen years in prison.

Belozertsev was appointed as acting governor of the Penza Region in May 2015. Later that year, he won the regional election with 86% of the vote. In September 2020, he was re-elected with 78.72% of the vote.

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