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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kalmykia Police Chief Suspended

With a week to go before presidential elections in Kalmykia, the race became embroiled in scandal this weekend, as the region's police chief was suspended amid allegations that he and his subordinates have interfered in the campaign and covered up crimes such as drug trafficking, poaching and contraband oil production.

Kalmyk Interior Minister Timofei Sasykov -- widely said to be an ally of the powerful incumbent, President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov -- was suspended after an investigation by the internal affairs department of the federal Interior Ministry, an official with the department said by telephone Monday.

The Interior Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the latest investigation began early last week and would last until the end of the month, but the original evidence of wrongdoing surfaced during a probe into sturgeon and caviar poaching conducted in the Caspian border region last spring.

The official said Sasykov's regional police forces had raided the campaign headquarters of Ilyumzhinov's opponents without just cause. He also said they had closed their eyes to -- and sometimes personally benefitted from -- poaching, drug-running and illegal oil production. Calls to the Kalmyk Interior Ministry and presidential administration went unanswered Monday afternoon.

Sasykov was tentatively replaced by General Valery Ochirov, an adviser to Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, the ministry official said. The Kommersant newspaper reported Monday that Ochirov is a long-time political rival of Ilyumzhinov and ran against him in presidential elections in 1993.

Under recently enacted legislation, the final decision on Sasykov's position must be made by President Vladimir Putin.

While Russian media speculated that the suspension reflected a battle between powerful groups in and around the Kremlin, political analysts were skeptical.

"I think this scandal has been blown out of proportion," Alexei Mukhin of the Center for Political Information said. "Kalmykia is not so significant a region that it would draw this much attention from the Kremlin."