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Russian Lawmaker Arrested During Parliament Session In Murder Probe

Rauf Arashukov
Rauf Arashukov

A Russian ruling-party lawmaker has been arrested in parliament and charged with murder by authorities who suspect he was behind two high-profile contract killings in the North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia in 2010.

Rauf Arashukov was taken into custody at a session of the Federation Council, the Russian parliament's upper chamber, on January 30 after lawmakers agreed to strip him of his immunity from prosecution. Media reports said his father, Raul Arashukov, was detained in St. Petersburg later in the day on separate charges.

The younger Arashukov, 32, was handcuffed and taken to Investigative Committee headquarters, where he was charged with murder, participation in a "criminal community," and witness-tampering, according to a committee statement.

It said he was suspected of involvement in the 2010 killings of Fral Shebzukhov, an adviser to the leader of Karachai-Cherkessia at the time, and Aslan Zhukov, the deputy chairman of a youth movement in the mostly Muslim region, the committee said. Both victims were shot; Shebzukov was also beaten with a baseball bat.

Arashukov is also suspected of pressuring a witness in the Zhukov case.

Accounts from lawmakers in Russian media suggested Arashukov's arrest played out with a measure of drama: The morning session of the Federation Council in central Moscow was abruptly closed to the media and entry to the chamber was blocked by Federal Guards Service officers.

Apparently taken by surprise, Arashukov started to walk up the steps between rows of seats in the chamber after the Investigative Committee chief read out the order stripping him of immunity, but stopped after the "icy voice" of Federation Council speaker Valentina Mativiyeno urged him to give in, RBC reported.

"He tried to walk upstairs and leave the session. I told him to sit down in his seat," Matviyenko told journalists later. She said that she told him that the rules gave him the right to comment about the matter but that he declined.

A video released by the Investigative Committee showed Arashukov, in handcuffs, being brought to its headquarters for questioning.

During questioning, Arashukov said that his Russian was not good enough and asked for a translator, Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said, adding that the request was granted.

Many Russian citizens who are not ethnic Russians are more comfortable speaking their native languages. But a fellow member of the Economic Affairs Committee in the Federation Council, Nikolai Kalashnikov, said that Arashukov's Russian was "grammatical and clean" and that he attended committee meetings regularly.

A former municipal lawmaker and district head in Karachai-Cherkessia, Arashukov became a member of the Federation Council in September 2016 and represented the executive branch of the regional government in the upper house.

The United Russia branch in Karachai-Cherkessia said on January 30 that it suspended Arashukov's membership in the party, which dominates politics nationwide and is one of President Vladimir Putin's main levers of influence.

Arashukov could face life in prison if convicted of murder.

Shebzukhov was beaten with a baseball bat and fatally shot in May 2010, and Zhukov was shot dead in March of the same year. According to the Russian news outlet RBK, at least three people suspected or convicted of involvement in the killings have claimed Arashukov was behind them, but he has denied it.

In September, relatives of both victims demonstrated outside the regional Investigative Committee building in Karachai-Cherkessia, demanding that the authorities open a criminal case into Arashukov.

Media outlets including the daily Izvestia and the Interfax news agency reported that Rauf Arashukov's father, Raul, was detained in St. Petersburg a few hours after his son's arrest.

The Investigative Committee said that Raul Arashukov, 59, was suspected of fraud and of using his official position to create a criminal group, and accused of stealing 30 million rubles ($453 million) worth of natural gas over several years. It said that homes and buildings linked to the Arashukov family were searched in several cities across Russia.

Raul Arashukov is a lawmaker in Karachai-Cherkessia and has worked as an adviser to the CEO of Mezhregiongaz, an affiliate of state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, since 2011.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Current Time, Rapsi, RBC, RIA Novosti, Izvestia, Moskovsky komsomolets, TASS, and Interfax