February 1, 2018 / 7:27 PM / a year ago

Ex-governor of Russian region given eight years in jail

FILE PHOTO: Former Governor of Kirov Region Nikita Belykh, who is accused by the Investigative Committee of taking a bribe, stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at the Basmanny district court in Moscow, Russia June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court on Thursday sentenced Nikita Belykh, the former governor of a Russian region, to eight years in prison after he was convicted of taking bribes from a businessman, Russian media reported.

Belykh, who denied the charges, was governor of the Kirov region north-east of Moscow. Unusually for a senior Russian official, he had an opposition background and hired outspoken Kremlin critics as aides in his administration.

Several people who know Belykh have told Reuters the governor was vulnerable to prosecution because he was an outsider to the Kremlin system and, as a liberal reformer, at odds with many of the security hawks in the Kremlin.

He was arrested on the evening of June 24, 2016 in Megu, an upscale Japanese restaurant in central Moscow. Law enforcement officials said they caught him red-handed taking 150,000 euros ($187,440) in cash from Yuri Zyudheimer, owner of a timber business in Kirov.

Prosecutors said the money, and cash Belykh received on other occasions, was a bribe in return for favourable treatment for Zyudheimer’s company.

Belykh’s lawyers said he took the money not for himself but as a contribution towards a programme to beautify the regional capital. Russian officials have denied that Belykh’s prosecution was politically motivated.

Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by William Maclean

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