As mayor of a town outside Moscow, Pyotr Lazarev granted permits to protesters. Now he's resigned amid rumors that it might spare him criminal charges.
Volokolamsk Mayor Pyotr Lazarev has resigned, officially for “health reasons.” Tatiana Mozol, the city’s first deputy head, will take over his duties, according to the news agency TASS. Asked by Meduza if he resigned by choice or under pressure, Lazarev refused to comment. Regarding his health, the outgoing mayor said his condition started to decline during local protests against the “Yadrovo” landfill, “when I was trying to fix something,” Lazarev told Meduza.
A source told Meduza that Lazarev had to resign because of two pending criminal investigations. Interior Ministry officials from the Moscow regional office are allegedly investigating Lazarev for abusing his authority as mayor. On October 26, he reported to police for questioning in connection with these charges.
“It's a long story”
Pyotr Lazarev confirmed to Meduza that he reported for questioning on October 26, but he says he wasn’t interrogated as a suspect. “There are no criminal cases being investigated against me, but yes I was questioned as a witness. I don’t have the time or inclination to tell you more about that case; it’s a long story,” Lazarev said, refusing to comment when asked if he was threatened with being named as a suspect, if he didn’t resign from office. Police officers in the Interior Ministry’s Moscow regional office did not respond promptly to Meduza's questions about the case.
According to Meduza’s source, the criminal investigations are the work of Andrey Vikharev, who served as the acting head of the Volokolamsk District from March until October. Vikharev allegedly promised Lazarev that “everything would end” if he submitted his resignation. On October 25, members of the Volokolamsk district council elected a new district head: Mikhail Sylka, the Moscow regional government’s former deputy ecology minister. Sylka denied rumors that the authorities pressured Lazarev to step down. “Let’s look at the official documents, and it’s written there: resigned of his own volition,” Sylka told Meduza. “And if there are criminal investigations, is a mayor absolved of criminal responsibility just because he leaves office? You commit a crime, leave office, and then you’re forgiven? That doesn’t happen.” Andrey Vikharev was unavailable for comment.
A long time coming
Police previously investigated Lazarev for fraud back in April 2018, and even searched his home. At the time, the mayor said he’d been threatened by “high-ranking regional officials” who demanded that he stop granting demonstration permits to local activists protesting against the “Yadrovo” landfill.