Bust on Senate Floor as Russia Legislator Faces Murder Case
(Bloomberg) -- It started as a normal morning in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, as a rubber stamp body for the Kremlin packed with wealthy members. But within minutes, the country’s top law-enforcement officials turned up to detain a senator on murder charges as he waited for debate to begin.
The unprecedented scene saw Russia’s youngest senator, 32-year-old Rauf Arashukov, led from the floor of the Federation Council Wednesday on charges of murder and organized crime. As officials laid out their case to his colleagues to lift his immunity as a parliamentarian, he got up to leave the hall but was ordered to stay by Speaker Valentina Matvienko, she later told reporters.
Later, investigators released footage of him being led in handcuffs by police. He was charged with murder, participating in a criminal group and pressuring a witness. His father, an influential businessman in their home region, was also taken into custody, suspected of setting up the criminal group and fraud in a case involving hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen natural gas.
Rauf Arashukov denies all the charges but has no further comment, according to his lawyer, Evgeny Ustin, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. His father’s lawyer couldn’t be reached for comment.
Though state media portrayed the action as evidence of the Kremlin’s toughness on crime, the dramatic events put the authorities in a ticklish position. Senators in Russia are usually carefully vetted by the Kremlin before going through the technical procedure of being appointed by their region. Arashukov was a member of the ruling United Russia party and had been a senator since 2016.
“For us as a house, it’s an extremely unpleasant situation,” said Andrei Klishas, chairman of the Federation Council’s Constitutional Law Committee, according to Tass.
The ruling party Wednesday announced his membership had been suspended. Doing little to allay concerns about why it had taken so long to catch him, Speaker Matvienko explained that the alleged crimes had taken place before he became a senator. “It’s up to the regions who they send to the Federation Council,” she said.
Arashukov is the first sitting senator to be detained on murder charges. Igor Izmestyev, who was a member of the upper houser from 2001 to 2006, was arrested in 2007 and received a life sentence for organizing contract killings.
Allegations Arashukov had criminal ties were well known to Kremlin officials as far back as 2009, when he was already a member of the regional parliament, according to official documents from that time seen by Bloomberg.
He’s accused of ordering two murders in 2010 in his home region of Karachayevo-Cherkessiya in Southern Russia, the Investigative Committee said in a statement. His father, Raul Arashukov, an adviser to the chief executive of a Gazprom PJSC subsidiary that distributes gas domestically, was detained at a Gazprom office in St. Petersburg, the Interfax news service reported.
The Arashukovs’ alleged criminal group stole more than 30 billion rubles ($455 million) of gas from Gazprom over a period of several years, according to the Investigative Committee statement. Searches related to the case were conducted in 11 cities.
The younger suspect asked for a translator for his interrogation, citing poor Russian-language skills, the Investigative Committee said.
Over the last few years, the Kremlin has cracked down on allegedly corrupt officials in several republics of the mostly Muslim North Caucasus, Russia’s poorest region. Last year, federal law enforcement oversaw the detention of top officials in the neighboring republic of Dagestan. The acting prime minister, two of his deputies, the mayor of the region’s capital city and a prominent businessman were all caught up in the anti-corruption campaign.
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