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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who Gets Charged and Why

The mayors of the town of Pyatigorsk in the Stavropol Region have been about as lucky as the inhabitants of the cursed apartment No. 50 in Bulgakov's classic novel "The Master and Margarita".

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The first mayor, Yury Vasilyev, was almost killed when his car was blown up in August 2003. His successor, Vladimir Shestopalov, was also the target of bombers, and was later indicted for corruption.

On July 31, Pyatigorsk's City Duma elected a third mayor, Igor Tarasov -- only for Tarasov's SUV to crash into a car in the oncoming lane on a highway, killing the driver and four passengers. Regional prosecutors arrested him on suspicion that he was behind the wheel at the time.

The mettle on the part of the prosecutors is simply amazing. After all, there are lots of voters, but only one mayor. They probably would have charged Alexander Ivanov, the son of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in the death of an elderly pedestrian who was killed when she was struck by the younger Ivanov's car in May 2005. No charges were filed.

In this context, the fact that Tarasov was taken into custody following what was, by Russian political standards, an insignificant little traffic accident that left just five people dead, might seem strange.

The arrest of Tarasov is not the first story involving prosecutors and the town of Pyatigorsk.

Just four months after Vasilyev's car was blown up, regional prosecutors announced they were closing the investigation "due to a failure to establish the identity of any person who could be questioned as a suspect."

With the second mayor, Shestopalov, it was even funnier. Having gotten himself elected, he tried to set up a model mountain resort at Mashuk with help from German investors. Unfortunately for Shestopalov, the land had already been handed out under the previous mayor. In May 2004, Shestopalov found a powerful homemade explosive device in a flowerbed in his yard. The assassination attempt failed, but just two months later the corruption charges against him were filed. Shestopalov was ultimately fired, and shortly thereafter 37 hectares of the Mashuk property was sold to some little-known company for 347,000 rubles ($13,000).

It's enough to make you wonder at the apparent coincidence of interests between the would-be assassins and the regional prosecutors.

Tarasov's luck hasn't been any better. The regional authorities showed interest in him even before his involvement in the fatal accident. On Aug. 21, he was temporarily stripped of his powers while the regional government investigated suspected irregularities in his nomination as mayor. At least that was the official accusation. The unofficial one was that Tarasov had been an adviser to Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov and deputy to Kadyrov's predecessor, Sergei Abramov, meaning that his election put a Kadyrov man in the mayor's office. Why would the people running the resort capital of the North Caucasus want it under the control of the man who effectively runs Chechnya?

Pyatigorsk has long been in the process of being carved up, but it's becoming harder and harder to work out who is the mayor, who is the killer, and who is the prosecutor. You think it was only the investigation into the attempt on Vasilyev's life that regional prosecutors closed with the convincing explanation that they had failed to even find a suspect? Wrong -- the exact same formula was trotted out when the investigation into the attempt on Shestopalov's life was closed three months later.

I don't know who will finally end up with control of the resort capital of the Caucasus. My point is that, if prosecutors close the investigation into the attempts on the life of Mayor Shestopalov and swiftly detain Mayor Tarasov for a fatal traffic accident, the whole thing starts to look a little one-sided.

In this kingdom of crooked mirrors, the death of the five motorists starts to look more like the pretext for Tarasov's arrest, and not the reason.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.