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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Probe Fishing Officials


Vladimir Kolesnikov

Working to solve the brazen murder of a provincial governor in the heart of Moscow, federal prosecutors have opened a criminal probe against two senior officials of the government fisheries agency suspected of stealing about 3,000 tons of shellfish.

Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said Thursday that the officials had allegedly robbed the state of 100 million rubles ($3.1 million) through illegal fishing for crab and other shellfish under the guise of scientific research.

"We wouldn't have expected to find such large-scale abuse," Kolesnikov said at a news conference, adding that the scheme yielded 2,740 metric tons of shellfish. "It makes one feel pity for the nation and its sea resources."

Kolesnikov said an investigation on charges of abuse of power had been launched against Leonid Kholod, a deputy head of the State Fisheries Committee, and Alexander Rogatnykh, chief of Magadan's state fishing research institute.

Kolesnikov said the prosecutors found evidence against the two officials while investigating last month's killing of Valentin Tsvetkov, the governor of the far eastern Magadan region, which is rich in gold and fishing resources.

Kolesnikov said there was no immediate connection between the probe against the two officials and the killing of Tsvetkov, but would not rule it out, saying that the investigation was continuing. He would not say whether Tsvetkov was aware of the illegal fishing or had tried to stop it.

Kholod told Ekho Moskvy radio that he had learned about the investigation from the media and denied any wrongdoing. "I can't understand in what sense I abused my power," he said, adding that he barely knew Tsvetkov.

Kolesnikov's statement followed President Vladimir Putin's call on law enforcement agencies Wednesday to take stronger action against increasingly criminal groups in the Far East.

Presiding over the Security Council, Putin pointed to Tsvetkov's murder as an example of criminals trying to put key industries of the region under their control.

"Criminal structures have been attempting to directly influence the development of promising industries," Putin said, adding that international criminal networks posed a major threat to the region's stability through their involvement in economic crime, smuggling and drug trafficking.