MOSCOW – A provincial governor in Russia's far east has been arrested on charges of involvement in multiple murders, officials said Thursday.
Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region along the border with China, was arrested in Khabarovsk and was flown to Moscow.
The Investigative Committee, the nation's top 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.
Russian TV stations showed the video of Furgal's arrest, in which agents removed the 50-year-old governor from his car, searched him and drove him away.
During interrogation in Moscow, Frugal denied the charges, according to the Tass news agency.
President Vladimir Putin will review the charges against Furgal before making a decision on whether to relieve him of his duties, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. In Russia, the president has the authority to fire governors and name acting governors who then face elections.
The Investigative Committee said that four of Furgal's suspected accomplices were also arrested.
Before defeating a Kremlin-backed rival to win the governor's seat in 2018, Furgal served as a federal lawmaker on the ticket of the Liberal-Democratic Party for a decade. In 2015-2016, he headed the public health committee in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.
While Furgal has never challenged Russian government policy, his victory in the gubernatorial election was a humiliating setback for the main Kremlin party, the United Russia.
Liberal-Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky criticized law enforcement agencies over the arrest, arguing that there was no need to put Furgal in handcuffs. He hailed Furgal as “the best governor the region ever had” and warned that the entire party faction of 40 members of the 450-seat Duma may leave the legislature and call on its members to renounce other official posts to protest Furgal's arrest.
Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin dismissed Zhirinovsky's demarche as blackmail.
The charges against Furgal date back to the period when he worked as a businessman with interests ranging from imports of consumer goods to timber and metals before launching his political career.
Following the 1991 Soviet collapse, Russia plunged into violent turf battles between rival criminal clans for control over business assets, and contract murders of businessmen were a regular occurrence during the 1990s and the early 2000s.
Alexander Khinshtein, the head of the information and communications committee in the lower house of parliament, said that Russian law enforcement agencies long had been aware of Furgal's alleged criminal connections.
“I'm not surprised about his arrest. I'm surprised that it happened so late,” he tweeted.