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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MMM Probe Expands

The government's investigation into the dealings of MMM mastermind Sergei Mavrodi widened Tuesday to include several-dozen shell companies and the MMM company itself while shareholders' protests against the government were taken to Red Square.

Interfax reported that the tax police had launched an investigation into other companies surrounding MMM after it opened a criminal case against Mavrodi subsidiary Invest Consulting last week.

According to tax officials, Mavrodi set up nearly 49 companies that were part of an elaborate shell game to buy and sell MMM shares and bid up the price.

The reputed MMM pyramid crashed two weeks ago, with the value of shares falling to 1,000 rubles (47 cents) from a high of 115,000.

Aggrieved shareholders continued their protests Tuesday with about 50 protestors staging a sit-in on Red Square.

At the MMM headquarters on Varshavskoye Shosse, about 13 hunger-strikers set up camp demanding the release of Mavrodi, Itar-Tass reported.

One placard read, "Mavrodi -- From President of MMM to President of Russia."

Mavrodi, in custody since Thursday, was being held at Moscow police headquarters in a jail cell with two other men suspected of "property crimes," Interfax reported.

But a police spokesman refuted reports that Mavrodi was on a hunger strike, saying he was eating properly, Interfax said.

Mavrodi had still not been formally charged Tuesday but the spokesman said this was expected to happen by the end of the week. Mavrodi was detained for refusing to honor a search warrant and on suspicion of tax evasion.

Tax officials are looking into the transfer of funds from MMM Invest, Mavrodi's voucher investment fund, by MMM Fund, another offshoot, to Invest Consulting. A spokesman for the tax police said the transfer had not been approved by MMM Invest shareholders.

The funds were ultimately transferred to National Pensione Bank, which is owned by several Mavrodi subsidiaries.