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Former Russian minister detained over massive embezzlement, may face 20 years in prison

Former Russian minister, Nikolay Abyzov, who only left the cabinet last year, was detained by the Federal Security Service (FSB) over accusations of organizing a criminal group to embezzle 4 billion rubles (around $62 million).

The investigators believe Abyzov and his accomplices obtained the money by swindling the shareholders of two major energy companies in Russia’s Novosibirsk Region. The funds were then transferred abroad through offshore firms, which the ex-minister was a beneficial owner between 2011 and 2014.

The actions of the criminal group that Abyzov “organized and headed” have jeopardized the energy security and stable economic growth of several Russian Regions, the Investigative Committee said.

The probe against the 46-year-old is head by the top branch in the Investigative Committee, which only deals with high priority cases, with the assistance of the FSB.

Abyzov is charged with organizing a criminal group, with the offense carrying a prison term of up to 20 years, under Russian law. The investigators say they’ll ask the court to put him in custody.

A source told Interfax that the ex-minister was recently living abroad – in Italy and the US – and the FSB “operatives had to lure him to Russia.” He didn’t elaborate on how the detention happened.

The ex-ministers’ lawyer, Aleksandr Ansis, told the media that his client "categorically refuses to acknowledge his guilt."

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Abyzov began his business career in the 1990s and occupied key positions in several of the country’s largest energy companies, including Unified Energy System of Russia and E4 Group. He’s one of the richest people in the country, with Forbes estimating his wealth at $600 million last year.

He joined the Russian government in 2012 under Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and maintained the ministerial post until May 2018. The man oversaw the functioning of the Open Government, a new approach which was introduced to make the Russian state more transparent and allow the authorities to discuss its initiatives with the society.

Vladimir Putin was informed of Abyzov’s case in advance, Kremlin press-secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said.

Medvedev’s office also said that the PM was aware of the situation, but pointed out that Abyzov is being investigated “for the activities that aren’t related to his work as a government member.”

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