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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Siberian Mayor Trial Draws to Close

The trial of the mayor of a mining town in Western Siberia - who was propelled to fame and landed in jail after President Boris Yeltsin called him a crook - is nearing its end.

The regional court in Leninsk-Kuznetsky heard final arguments Tuesday in the corruption case against Gennady Konyakhin, a businessman elected mayor in spring 1997 of the town of 120,000 people near Kemerovo. He was arrested that October and has been in custody ever since.

After hearing testimony from nearly 100 witnesses, the judge declared a two-week break before a verdict is expected to be announced. Prosecutors are demanding a seven-year prison term and confiscation of Konyakhin's property.

"The accusations are absolutely groundless," said Sergei Belyak, a Moscow lawyer leading the defense team. He said the evidence did not support the charges, but prosecutors were determined to press ahead.

A spokesman in the regional prosecutor's office refused to comment. The judge could not be reached.

"Politics, money and power are all mixed into this case," said Belyak, who works closely with Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist party. He accused prosecutors of trying to prevent embarrassment to Yeltsin and the investigators who launched the case after the president singled out Konyakhin on national television.

Yeltsin's remarks followed a report in the Izvestia newspaper alleging that Konyakhin was involved in several murders and was using his position to advance his business interests.

His lawyers say the mayor ran afoul of powerful financial interests by challenging the system of middlemen taking profits from the local coal mines.

After his election, Konyakhin tried to set up a municipal trading company that would channel the coal proceeds to the government.

Prosecutors have accused him of using his position to benefit his personal business interests by falsifying documents to acquire a building for less than its value and by levying a road tax on cars passing though the city.

Half of the road tax went to the firm collecting the money, which is controlled by the mayor's wife, a spokesman for the Kemerovo regional prosecutor's office said.

Konyakhin is accused of causing the state damages of about 800,000 rubles ($51,380 at Wednesday's official rate) through his business activities, misappropriating 235,000 rubles from the budget and avoiding 55,000 rubles in taxes.