Russia probes MP who opposed Crimea annexation

Russia probes MP who opposed Crimea annexation
Russian and Crimean flags fly side-by-side in Crimea.
PHOTO: Reuters

MOSCOW - Russia has opened a criminal probe into the only lawmaker who voted against Moscow's annexation of Crimea, accusing him of embezzlement, authorities announced Tuesday.

The Investigative Committee, which reports directly to President Vladimir Putin, accused MP Ilya Ponomaryov of complicity in embezzling 22 million rubles (S$535,000) from the Skolkovo Foundation, a high-tech project that the Kremlin hoped would be its answer to Silicon Valley.

Investigators said the lawmaker had misappropriated fees for lectures, which only lasted "3 to 18 minutes", receiving some US$30,000 (S$40,704) for each lecture.

Ponomaryov, who remains a sitting lawmaker, currently lives in the United States. He says he has come under pressure from the authorities and chose not to return from a business trip last August.

The 39-year-old lawmaker has denied any wrongdoing.

The Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, in April voted to lift the lawmaker's immunity from prosecution.

Investigators added that they would seek Ponomaryov's extradition.

Ponomaryov is one of the few remaining lawmakers who are openly critical of Putin. He was the only MP who voted against the ratification of a treaty incorporating the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea into Russia last year.

"Looking from the outside, it's clear the main thing that the authorities have stolen from Russia is the future," he wrote earlier this year.

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