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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kemerovo Governor Defends Tikhonov

Kemerovo regional Governor Aman Tuleyev said Wednesday that he doubted former Olympic biathlon champion Alexander Tikhonov had anything to do with an alleged plot to kill him and pointed the finger at the head of metal holding MIKOM.

Tikhonov, a close friend of MIKOM head Mikhail Zhivilo, was arrested Aug. 8 in connection with what investigators say was a plot to kill the governor. Tikhonov was freed Sunday, and Tuleyev said he personally asked prosecutors to release him.

MIKOM has been in conflict with Tuleyev’s administration and was effectively driven out of the west Siberian region in March.

Speaking Tuesday at a news conference in Novosibirsk, Tikhonov said that investigators pressured him to give evidence against Zhivilo. He suggested that investigators may try to get rid of him as the main witness defending Zhivilo’s innocence.

Tuleyev said Wednesday that Tikhonov’s relation to the alleged murder plot is doubtful.

"I hold Tikhonov in the highest regard possible. I do not know him at all," Tuleyev said on NTV television.

"I would not want everything that is being said about him now to be confirmed," he said, adding, however, that it was no secret that many sports figures have become involved in the "criminal world."

The governor said Zhivilo should be the focus of the police investigation. "He [Zhivilo] is the main culprit. He needs to be looked into," Tuleyev said.

Zhivilo’s whereabouts were unknown. Even MIKOM spokesman Vladimir Kartashkov said he did not know where he was.

"I don’t have any kind of relationship with Zhivilo. I work for him," Kartashkov said.

Tikhonov said that one reason for his arrest appeared to be his support for former Novosibirsk Mayor Viktor Tolokonsky in last December’s gubernatorial elections in Novosibirsk. He said one investigator told him that he should have thought about whom to support, "a Russian Ivan or the Jews." Tolokonsky defeated former Deputy Economics Minister Ivan Starikov.

Tikhonov also told reporters that the investigator accused him of using the word "grain" to stand for "murder" while discussing "the details" by telephone with his brother Viktor, also jailed in connection with the alleged plot. He said that in reality, in their conversations, which were tapped, they discussed the purchase of grain

"Grain is my profession," Tikhonov said, calling the assumptions of the investigator "delirious" and saying that during these conversations he also used the words "corn" and "sunflower" and can only guess how the investigators could have understood them.

Tikhonov has a sizable empire of food-related businesses, including a bakery and a meat-processing factory.

Tikhonov was released from a Novosibirsk prison hospital Sunday on condition he not leave the city until the end of the investigation. He had been hospitalized after suffering a concussion when he fainted and hit his head while jailed. He was admitted Wednesday to a Novosibirsk hospital with hypertension.

Tikhonov said Tuesday he wants his case to go to the Prosecutor General’s Office since the investigation involves a governor, who is a federal official. Until then, he said, he plans to refuse to cooperate with local investigators.