Russian ex-minister arrested on fraud charges


Moscow (AFP)

A Russian court ruled Wednesday that a former minister and ally of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev be held in custody ahead of his trial on multimillion-dollar embezzlement charges.

Mikhail Abyzov, 46, who served as open government minister, was detained Tuesday by the FSB security service.

The court ordered him to be held for two months. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. Abyzov denied the charges.

Russia's Investigative Committee -- which answers to President Vladimir Putin -- said Abyzov and his "accomplices" had defrauded two energy companies of about four billion rubles ($62 million) and then moved the money offshore.

"Through their illegal actions the accomplices put in danger the sustainable economic development and energy security" of two Siberian regions, the investigators said in a statement.

Abyzov was the head of a "criminal group" between 2011 and 2014, the statement added.

He served as a minister between 2012 and 2018. After leaving the government he reportedly lived in Italy and the United States.

Observers said Abyzov's high-profile arrest was the latest sign of fierce infighting among the Russian elite and might cast a shadow on Medvedev.

In 2017, a Russian court sentenced former economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev to eight years in a penal colony on charges of taking a bribe from Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin.