Former Russian Minister in charge of the "Open Government" Mikhail Abyzov, center, is convoyed for a hearing in a court in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. The Investigative Committee said Tuesday that Abyzov is accused of presiding over a criminal group that embezzled funds belonging to two energy companies in Siberia and siphoned them into foreign bank accounts. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Court orders Russian ex-minister jailed for 2 months

March 27, 2019 - 12:00 pm

MOSCOW (AP) — A former Russian Cabinet member was ordered Wednesday to stay behind bars on charges of embezzling $62 million.

The Basmanny District Court ordered Mikhail Abyzov be kept in custody for two months while an investigation continues.

Abyzov is accused of leading a criminal group that allegedly embezzled 4 billion rubles in assets from energy companies and deposited it in foreign banks. He may face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Speaking in court, Abyzov rejected the charges and said he will cooperate with investigators to prove his innocence.

Abyzov's lawyers asked the court to free him on bail of 1 billion rubles ($15.4 million), an amount remarkably high by Russian standards, or let him remain under house arrest as the probe goes on.

Former Kremlin's chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, ex-Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Russia's ex-privatization czar Anatoly Chubais who now heads Rosnano company all vouched for Abyzov, but the court rejected defense appeals and ordered him stay in jail.

Abyzov was Russia's minister for open government affairs in 2012-2018, overseeing information technologies and efforts to increase government transparency.

He was a close associate of Dmitry Medvedev, who was Russian president in 2008-2012 when term limits forced Vladimir Putin to move into the premier's seat.

Abyzov was among those in Medvedev's inner circle who reportedly encouraged him to run for a second term. Medvedev eventually stepped down to allow Putin to reclaim the presidency in 2012 and shifted into the premier's position. The swap triggered massive anti-Putin protests in Moscow in 2011-2012.

Abyzov was seen as part of a group of officials in Medvedev's entourage who cast themselves as liberals and saw their influence shrink as security services expanded their clout.

Several other members of that group have been pushed out, and Abyzov's arrest could cloud Medvedev's political future.

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