MOSCOW (AP) — Several top officials in the province of Dagestan in Russia’s North Caucasus were arrested on embezzlement charges Monday, part of the Kremlin’s efforts to strengthen control over the volatile region.
The Investigative Committee said acting regional Cabinet head Abdusamad Gamidov was arrested along with two of his deputies and several other senior officials. They were accused of embezzlement and fraud.
The arrests were made by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet KGB, which then flew the suspects to Moscow on its plane in a swift, military-style operation.
Russian state television showed masked members of the FSB special forces armed with assault rifles as they inspected Gamidov’s lavish mansion in the provincial capital, Makhachkala. The footage also featured a gold-plated pistol that allegedly belonged to Gamidov.
Monday’s pre-dawn bust followed the detention last month of Makhachkala’s mayor and several other top officials in an investigation by federal prosecutors.
Observers saw the latest arrests as part of Kremlin efforts to rein in the local elites and establish a degree of control over the economically struggling Caspian Sea region. In the past, the Kremlin largely turned a blind eye to signs of public funds being misused, apparently fearing to upset a status quo.
Following two separatist wars in neighboring Chechnya, Dagestan has become a breeding ground for an Islamist insurgency that includes frequent attacks on police and public officials. Hundreds of local residents are also thought to have joined the Islamic State group and other militants in Syria.
Widespread poverty and unemployment have been described as key factors in the region’s violence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin named senior federal lawmaker Vladimir Vasilyev as the new head of Dagestan in October. Before his election to parliament, Vasilyev served as a deputy interior minister in the early 2000s following a long policing career.
He dismissed the entire regional Cabinet after Monday’s arrests.