On June 29, 2007, the Lenin District Court in the city of Saransk found Sardayev, editor of the independent weekly Mordoviya Segodnya, guilty of misusing funds during his tenure as head of the Mordoviya postal service in 2004. Sardayev was sentenced to five and a half years in jail and fined 105,000 rubles (US$3,800). He was taken into custody immediately after the verdict was read. Three months after Sardayev’s jailing, Mordoviya Segodnya closed for financial reasons, according to local press reports.
Sardayev’s colleagues said they believed he was targeted because of Mordoviya Segodnya’s criticism of the governor, Nikolai Merkushkin. The Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) detailed the conflict between Sardayev and Merkushkin, which began in 2004.
Sardayev, a member of the Mordoviya parliament at the time, irritated local authorities that year by making repeated inquiries into the legality of tax breaks the regional government had given to Mordoviya’s energy companies. The Lenin District Prosecutor’s Office of Saransk opened a criminal investigation into what prosecutors said was his abuse of authority, forgery, and misappropriation of funds. About six months later, Saransk prosecutors imprisoned Sardayev for a week for allegedly failing to appear in court. The detention coincided with a Mordoviya Segodnya special edition that detailed businesses owned by Merkushkin and his family, according to local news reports.
In the 2007 case, Mordoviya postal employees testified that Sardayev had used postal service money to build a public tennis court and to restore an old post office building in Saransk, CJES correspondent Igor Telin reported.