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Russian official faces corruption charges over World Cup

Associated Press Associated Press 16/11/2016
FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 3, 2016 file photo, a soccer stadium is under construction on Krestovsky Island, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Russian investigators are pressing graft charges against a former deputy governor of St. Petersburg linked to the construction of a trouble-plagued stadium that is to host World Cup matches in 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 3, 2016 file photo, a soccer stadium is under construction on Krestovsky Island, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Russian investigators are pressing graft charges against a former deputy governor of St. Petersburg linked to the construction of a trouble-plagued stadium that is to host World Cup matches in 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)

MOSCOW — Russian investigators are pressing graft charges against a former deputy governor of St. Petersburg linked to the construction of a trouble-plagued stadium that is to host World Cup matches in 2018.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement on Wednesday that Marat Oganesyan, the city's deputy governor in 2013-2015, has been detained on suspicion of embezzling 50 million rubles ($777,000) on a single contract to supply display screens for the new stadium. However, it could be only part of a much larger corruption case.

Investigators said Oganesyan arranged for a friendly subcontractor to win the contract and funneled the money out via shell companies. Investigators said they have filed a motion with a local court to jail Oganesyan pending the probe.

One official in the St. Petersburg city hall as well as three employees of the subcontractor are also under investigation in relation to the 69,000-seat stadium, provisionally called the Zenit Arena.

Current deputy governor Igor Albin said on Twitter that "the total sum of damages at the stadium ... exceeds 700 million rubles ($10.7 million)," citing evidence presented to the city government's construction department.

"No external events will influence the construction of the Zenit Arena now: the budget for the construction is balanced and everything that is needed has been bought," Albin added.

Wednesday's announcement came amid a blitz of corruption-related arrests and investigations in Russia. Late Monday, Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev was detained over an alleged $2 million bribe, while Wednesday also saw reports of investigations at a state technology firm and a helicopter manufacturer.

The St. Petersburg stadium has taken almost a decade to build, prompting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to publicly call it "disgraceful." The stadium, which is to host a 2018 World Cup semifinal match, is set to cost more than $600 million. Until the ruble dropped sharply in value in 2014 against the backdrop of international sanctions and a low oil price, the same ruble budget was worth more than $1 billion, making it one of the most expensive soccer stadiums in history.

The St. Petersburg City Hall in July fired the general contractor over repeated delays and cost overruns, also saying that authorities have gone to the police because it has allocated $39 million for the construction which has been unaccounted-for. Later than month President Vladimir Putin issued a special decree, ordering officials in St. Petersburg to speed up the construction.

FIFA expects Zenit Arena to be delivered in December so that it is ready to host the Confederations Cup next year.

There have also been several deaths of workers during construction. In the past 12 months, three have died in accidents, and investigators said Tuesday a North Korean man working on the stadium had died of an apparent heart attack in a workers' communal area at the stadium.

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