Donskoi Convicted, Then Freed

Itar-TassMasked police officers carrying former Arkhangelsk Mayor Alexander Donskoi out of his apartment on July 18.
Former Arkhangelsk mayor and would-be presidential candidate Alexander Donskoi was convicted Thursday of abusing his office and handed a three-year suspended sentence in a case he called politically motivated.

Donskoi, 37, was found guilty of dipping into city coffers to pay for bodyguards for himself and his family but was released from custody at Arkhangelsk's Oktyabrsky District Court after spending eight months in detention.

He had faced up to seven years in prison, though prosecutors requested a three-year sentence.

Reached by telephone after Thursday's verdict, Donskoi said he would appeal all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if he failed to clear his name in the Russian courts.

"What the court just read was complete nonsense with no basis in reality," Donskoi said. "The only point was to remove me from the political arena."

A spokeswoman for the Arkhangelsk Regional Prosecutor's Office said she could not comment.

Donskoi said he was abandoning politics to spend more time with his family. "I honestly do not want to continue in public life because this is impossible in our country without the blessing of the Kremlin," he said.

A relative newcomer to politics, Donskoi ran a chain of supermarkets in Arkhangelsk before being elected mayor in 2005.

In a separate case, Donskoi was found guilty last year of faking his university diploma, for which he got a one-year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay a 75,000 ruble ($2,900) fine.

In October 2006, he announced his intention to run for president in the 2008 election. His legal problems began several months later.

Donskoi blamed the legal attack on his chief political rival, Arkhangelsk Governor Nikolai Kiselyov. He has also called it a warning to other independent-minded politicians against seeking the presidency.

The conflict between Donskoi and Kiselyov escalated in July when the mayor posted a video on the Internet showing a man resembling Kiselyov purportedly accepting a bribe. Kiselyov called the video a fake.

One week later, police burst into Donskoi's apartment and dragged him out in his underwear. He was put in detention, and the corruption charges were filed shortly thereafter.

Irina Gorkaya, a spokeswoman for Kiselyov, said Thursday that it was Donskoi's "personal opinion" that he was being persecuted by the governor.

Last month, Donskoi complained his case was being drawn out to run past Sunday's presidential election.

Many regions have seen squabbling between mayors and governors. Mayors are still elected, while governors have been effectively appointed by the president since 2004.

Dozens of criminal cases have been opened against deputy mayors, small-town mayors and former mayors across the country in what political analysts call a campaign by the Kremlin and governors to instill greater loyalty.

In September, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a leading Russian human rights activist, called Donskoi a "political prisoner."

The following month, Donskoi joined A Just Russia, the pro-Kremlin party created by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov as a center-left alternative to United Russia.

In February, Donskoi staged a brief hunger strike. During Sunday's presidential election, Donskoi burned his ballot and was punished with solitary confinement, he said on his web site.

Prison officials then extended his solitary confinement to 15 days as punishment for breaking the toilet bowl in his cell, Gazeta.ru reported. Donskoi confirmed he had broken the toilet but said it was because he needed urgent medical attention and prison staff were ignoring his cries, according to his web site.

Last week, Donskoi resigned as mayor, saying in a statement that "the lack of leadership was putting the brakes on Arkhangelsk's development."