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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Boss in Lefortovo for Extortion

The deputy prime minister of Chechnya's Moscow-installed government was in custody Sunday in Moscow's Lefortovo prison after being detained on charges of embezzling billions of rubles meant to go toward rebuilding the battle-scarred region.

Deputy Prime Minister Bislan Gantamirov was detained at Sheremetyevo-2 airport on his return from Turkey, where he had been visiting his parents, Interfax reported.

He was accused of organizing the theft of funds which had been sent from Moscow to Chechnya to try to win its people over to Russia's side by reconstructing their shattered homes and public buildings. If convicted, he could face a term of four to 10 years and the confiscation of his property.

The arrest severely undermines the Grozny government, whose legitimacy has been rejected by separatists. A spokesman for the Chechen authorities told Itar-Tass that reports of Gantamirov's arrest were "a serious blow to the authority of the Chechen government."

Chechnya's Moscow-backed leader, Doku Zavgayev, demanded that Russia clarify the reason for Gantamirov's arrest. Another Chechen deputy prime minister, Vakha Sagayev, told Interfax that Zavgayev had spoken with Russian Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov but had received no clarifications.

"There are more questions than answers ... Without any interrogation a man is charged with every imaginable sin. What makes the matter worse is that the Chechen government did not distribute finances. The federal agencies responsible for the rebuilding work in Chechnya did not bother to ask us what installations need priority financing," Sagayev told Interfax

Gantamirov's arrest came as a complete surprise for Chechen Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman, who told correspondents in Grozny on Sunday that he was sure "Gantamirov was sick and stayed at home."