Stavropol's Top Cop Investigated

The Interior Ministry's top official in the Stavropol region is under investigation on suspicion of conducting illegal surveillance and abuse of office, the Investigative Committee said Monday.

Nikolai Goncharov, head of the Stavropol regional branch of the Interior Ministry, is suspected of illegally intercepting mail, telephone conversations and other private communications, committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a televised statement.

The details of Goncharov's purported crime remained unclear. Repeated calls to Markin went unanswered Monday, as did calls to the regional branch of the Interior Ministry.

Citing no sources, Gazeta.ru reported Monday that the wife of Andrei Utkin, former speaker of the Stavropol regional legislature, filed a complaint with the Federal Security Service that he was the target of politically motivated investigations organized by Goncharov.

Utkin was a close ally of Stavropol Mayor Dmitry Kuzmin, who led A Just Russia to victory in March 2007 regional legislative elections, defeating the United Russia campaign backed by governor Alexander Chernogorov.

Utkin and Kuzmin were hit with criminal charges that they said were trumped up. Kuzmin has an international warrant out for his arrest for abuse of office, while Utkin was convicted on the charge and given a two-year suspended sentence last month, according to national media reports.