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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ex-Mayor Escapes Prison Term

ReutersFormer Vladivostok Mayor Yury Kopylov, right, listening to arguments during his abuse-of-office trial on Monday.
VLADIVOSTOK -- Former Vladivostok Mayor Yury Kopylov on Monday was given a four-year suspended sentence for abuse of office in a case of cold cash and a columbarium.

The Leninsky District Court found that Kopylov had acted illegally when he signed a $3.8 million contract in November 2003 to buy building materials from Japanese company Shiroyama.

Prosecutors said Kopylov, 61, had failed to coordinate the contract with other city officials and to organize a tender. He made no provision for funding the contract in the city's budget, yet paid 6.5 million rubles ($243,000) in municipal funds to Shiroyama as a down payment.

Kopylov denied the charges. "I was brought up in the Soviet system, and I am used to obeying the law," the former mayor said during a break in the trial.

"When I was in the Vladivostok Mayor's Office, audits revealed no irregularities. Now, three years after my resignation, the prosecutors suddenly opened a case against me," he said.

Kopylov was appointed acting mayor of Vladivostok in 1999, and prevailed in the 2000 mayoral race. Four years later, he was defeated by the current mayor, Vladimir Nikolayev.

Prosecutors sent the case against Kopylov to court last November, shortly after the current administration received an arbitration court order to pay Shiroyama more than 21.5 million rubles ($834,000) in outstanding debt.

In total, Shiroyama delivered materials worth nearly 30 million rubles ($1.16 million) for the columbarium, which was intended to house the ashes of deceased World War II veterans.

An arbitration court later annulled the contract. The columbarium was never built.

"I was trying to build a columbarium, which would have benefited the city's residents. Things can go wrong in any financial transaction, but I never sought to make a profit on this deal or to harm to city intentionally," Kopylov said.

Kopylov's lawyer, Vladimir Matyushenko, told reporters he would most likely appeal the sentence.

Deputy city prosecutor Miroslav Yermolayev told reporters that he would also appeal, because Kopylov had not been sentenced to jail time.

In addition to his four-year suspended sentence, Kopylov was banned from holding public office for two years.

Prosecutors had sought a term of five years in prison and a three-year ban on holding public office.

"I think the prosecutors are doing the right thing by going after corrupt public officials, but I was included in their list by mistake for inexplicable reasons," Kopylov said. "The case against me was fabricated."

The former mayor did not specify who might have cooked up the case against him.

Kopylov is not the only public servant in the Far East who has attracted the attention of prosecutors.

Nikolayev, the current mayor, has been charged with abuse of power and remains in police custody. Earlier this month, a Vladivostok court extended the period of his pretrial detention to July 22.

Nikolayev was suspended from his post in late February after prosecutors opened an investigation into his activities. He was arrested in Moscow one week later.

Nikolayev stands accused of using city funds to pay for a private security detail and private flights. He is also being investigated for signing over city land to unidentified individuals for private gain.

The deputy mayor of Khabarovsk, Viktor Novitsky, faces charges of abuse of office. Amur Governor Leonid Korotkov has been charged with misappropriating public funds, abuse of power and negligence.