Russia launches probe against former Olympic official

Russian prosecutors on Wednesday launched a criminal investigation into a former senior Olympic Committee official fired by President Vladimir Putin over delays in building infrastructure for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.

The prosecutor-general's office said it had launched a probe into possible abuse of power by former Russian Olympics Committee deputy chief Akhmed Bilalov. The charge carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Putin publicly humiliated Bilalov when visiting Olympic venues in February and learning that the ski jumping facilities were behind schedule.

"How can it be that the vice-president of the Olympic Committee is holding back the development?" Putin fumed in televised comments.

A day later Putin fired Bilalov from the Olympic Committee and as chairman of the board of North Caucasus Resorts, the state-funded company responsible for the development of tourist resorts across the region.

A check into the finances of North Caucasus Resorts revealed "multiple violations," including exorbitant spending by Bilalov on personal luxuries, prosecutors said.

"The inspection revealed... instances of unjustified spending on the company management's trips to foreign countries which had elements of luxury," it said.

During a trip to London for last year's Summer Olympic Games, Bilalov claimed hotel expenses of two million rubles ($65,000), while simultaneously charging the company for unused hotel rooms in three Russian cities, according to the statement.

As a result, North Caucasus Resorts spent more money on its management than it did on attracting investment for the project, prosecutors said.

Bilalov, a native of the North Caucasus region of Dagestan who served as a senator in the Russian parliament, was the main lobbyist for the resort project.

Bilalov in the German spa resort of Baden Baden in Germany to recuperate and was not planning to return to Russia, Vedomosti business daily reported last month.

The government has struggled to justify the colossal expenses associated with Olympic construction in Sochi, which, together with infrastructural development in the city, has topped $50 billion.