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Russian regional leader charged with corruption

The head of Russia’s Udmurtia region Alexander Solovyov has been arrested and placed in provisional detention for allegedly taking bribes, the country’s Investigative Committee said Tuesday.

Solovyov, 67, who has governed the region in the Volga area east of Moscow since 2014, was taken to the Russian capital to face charges, the committee said in a statement, making him the highest level official to be charged since the March 26 anti-corruption protests led by opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Solovyov is suspected of taking up to 139 million rubles (2.3 million euros) in bribes between 2014 and 2016 from companies seeking contracts to build bridges and licences to operate gravel pits, according to the statement.

President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree sacking him “for loss of confidence”, according to a Kremlin statement.

A Moscow court ordered that Solovyov be held until June 4, according to RIA Novosti state news agency, justifying the detention by suggesting there were risks that police officers could be pressured or witnesses threatened.

The court also brought up the possibility that Solovyov could flee for Spain, where his family owns property.

Anti-corruption campaigner Navalny has said that frequent arrests of regional authorities, and coverage of these arrests by state-owned media, serve as a smokescreen to hide corruption at higher levels of government, particularly in Putin’s inner circle.

In a video report broadcast on YouTube last month, Navalny claimed that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has amassed a real estate fortune financed by oligarchs through a network of obscure foundations.

Navalny was sentenced to 15 days in jail last week after marching with thousands of other demonstrators in one of the biggest unauthorised rallies in Vladimir Putin’s 17 years in power as president or prime minister.