€7 million and cancelled termination of Altai Governor
What is the price of a governor’s chair and at what costs can it be retained? For the second week already, residents of the Altai krai are discussing how does the regional head manage to stay in his seat amid high-profile resignations of other Russian governors? Experts believe that Aleksander Karlin was among the first candidates for termination. However unlike many of his high-ranked colleagues, Karlin still remains in charge of the region.
Some answers – or rather numerous new questions – have appeared after an information leak on Kremlin Mother Expert, a popular Telegram Channel. On October 13, the resource has published a version stating that the upcoming termination of Karlin was cancelled in exchange for €7 million. Allegedly, some Kremlin functionaries had agreed to block the termination of the Altai Governor and uphold the subsequent (in some vague future) appointment of a successor chosen by Karlin at that price: «Perhaps, some experts (especially media outlets) think that the ‘renewal’ in the governor corps is over, but that’s not true – the technocrats are going to continue struggling for the cushy jobs. Sources close to the Presidential Executive Office (what else did you expect?) report the activity of some interested parties trying to affect the selection of successor. If you are standing, please sit down: €7 million have been offered for a governor’s seat, and 66-year-old Governor Aleksander Karlin – who obviously does not want to give up his office to technocrats jumping from the cliff into the sea but instead intends to leave it to successor Daniil Bessarabov – is involved into this. Of course, the Karlin and Bessarabov families have long-term friendly ties. The both families originate from the Altai krai. Prior to his appointment, Karlin used to work in the Presidential Executive Office, while members of the Bessarabov family have settled in Moscow ministries and agencies long time ago and have lobbyists in various structures. Daniil had repeatedly called Aleksander Karlin his godfather in politics. We can imagine this scene: Bessarabov approaches Karlin with respect, offers friendship and calls him “godfather”. Inside: should such a decision be made, the transfer of authority may occur before the New Year».
The are no rumors without a reason. This information could not appear out of the blue. Currently Kremlin Mother Expert Telegram Channel, with its 17 thousand subscribers, is among the ten most popular political portals. This anonymous Telegram channel publishes various unconfirmed versions of actual events provided, according to the authors, by their sources in the Presidential Executive Office. It is up to the audience whether to believe such statements or not, but the media hype around the fall rotation of governors indicates that Telegram has become a powerful political leverage tool. Many political experts agree that tips from the Kremlin published by Telegram channels in the morning often become official spotlight news by the evening.
There were two waves of governors’ resignations in Russia in 2017. This fall, during the second wave, the name of Aleksander Karlin, Governor of the Altai Krai, was repeatedly mentioned among the candidates for termination. The possible reasons include the age (on October 29, Karlin turned 69), elite conflicts, and high level of protest moods in the region.
In the recent years, the governor was accused of low levels of investment activity in the region and its high indebtedness.
According to the Federal State Statistics Service, in 2015, the Altai krai had featured the lowest fixed capital investments per capita level among the regions of the Siberian Federal District and occupied the sixth lowest place among all the 85 Russian regions. The value of this parameter was only 32,988 rubles ($567) and it has reduced by more than a quarter within one year. The situation with fixed capital investments is not much better: 78.538 million rubles ($1.4 million) in 2015 vs. 99.68 million rubles ($1.7 million) in 2014 (reduction by 21%). The Altai krai occupies the seventh position by this parameter among the 12 Siberian regions. And most politically important, the elections of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party in September 2016 have been failed in the Altai krai: the party has got there the lowest score in the country – 35%.
Therefore, it is surprising that the Altai Governor still holds his post – especially taking the recent terminations of heads of much more stable and wealthy adjacent regions – the Krasnoyarsk krai and Novosibirsk and Omsk regions.
Aleksander Karlin was born on October 29, 1951 in Medvedka village of the Altai Krai
In 1972, graduated from the Sverdlovsk Law Institute; later – from the All-Russian State University of Justice.
After completion of the compulsory military service in 1974, has advanced through ranks from a Senior Investigator of the Prosecutor’s Office of Biisk to a Deputy Prosecutor of Barnaul. In 1986–1989, was a Senior Prosecutor in an Administration of the Prosecutor’s Office of the USSR.
In 1989–2000, held supreme positions in the Prosecutor General’s Office of the USSR and Russian Federation.
Since 2002, was the First Deputy of Yuri Chaika, then-Minister of Justice. In 2003, participated in the development of the state service reformation concept and represented the Presidential Administration during the bill examination in the State Duma. On April 8, 2004, was appointed the Head of the Presidential Civil Service and Personnel Directorate.
In August 2005, has been appointed the Governor of the Altai Krai. On September 14, 2014, has been elected to the third term of office until 2019.
Similarly with other ‘perpetual’ governors (Karlin has been holding his post for 12 years already), rumors about his inevitable resignation circulate on a regular basis. Every time this ‘resignation’ is linked with high-profile corruption scandals involving his close associates. The last such scandal occurred just a few days ago – concurrently with the termination of other regional heads. Andrei Beloborodov, Chief of Administration of the Governor and Government of the Altai Krai, has been suspected of exceeding official powers. According to the investigation, in 2016, Beloborodov has organized – without a tender – an acquisition of three foreign-made cars with the total cost over 18 million rubles ($309.5 thousand) for a subordinate motor transport service administration at the expense of the regional budget. The acquisition has been made illegally and on a sole-source basis. The funds used to purchase the cars had originally been allocated for a different purpose – to implement the regional state and municipal administration improvement program.
Andrei Beloborodov, ex-Deputy Head of the General Administration for the Altai Krai of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation
However, neither this incident, nor the previous ones (including a high-profile scandal involving Yuri Denisov, ex-Head of the Regional Administration of Education and Youth Policy) have affected the stability of Aleksander Karlin’s reign. He still has a reputation of a person ruling the region single-handedly. Take, for instance, his decision dated 2014 to appoint executive authorities without consent of the Legislative Assembly. He managed to push the Deputies to introduce such an amendment to the regional Charter themselves. It is rumored that Karlin has insisted to make these amendments after the refusal of several regional Deputies to vote for the appointment of Sergei Loktev the First Deputy Governor once again. As a punishment, the Deputies’ powers have been limited to the approval of the regional development strategy – i.e. general concepts. After that session of the Legislative Assembly, the specific programs and their financing are being approved in the Altai krai by those who personally control its budget.
Aleksander Karlin and his ‘right hand’ Sergei Loktev
It is necessary to note that Karlin and Loktev are linked not only by work relationships. Since 2009, rumors have been circulating in the region about a luxury cottage sold by the Loktev family to the Karlin family for next to nothing. Sergei Loktev joined the regional administration immediately after the appointment of Aleksander Karlin the Governor of the Altai Krai. Currently he has an unofficial reputation of a person who makes all the key decisions in the region. Since 2005, his name was repeatedly mentioned in the press in relation to the redistribution of wealth in the Altai krai. People call Sergei Loktev Grey Eminence, while the regional administration – Lokot’ (Elbow) Corporation that has seized control over all the profitable business spheres – construction, housing and public utilities, and power industry. Undesirable businessmen were successfully driven out from these spheres. Some residents consider Grey Eminence Loktev a more powerful figure in the region than the Governor.
One way or another, but the “Karlin–Loktev” duo makes virtually all the decisions in the Altai krai
In the region, the name of Loktev is associated with actions resulting in seizures of assets by the courts and strikes at enterprises. Experts believe that “the second person after the Governor” may be a beneficiary of such businesses as TsUM (Central Universal Department Store), City Center, wholesale and retail market of the Altai krai, and some other commercial structures. In 2015, Sergei Loktev has nearly become a suspect in a criminal case pertaining to sales of state lands at artificially low prices. But apparently, the issue has been somehow settled – there were no further publications about that investigation.
So, why Daniil Bessarabov is currently named the desirable successor to Karlin? What political circles are interested in such a swap? The 41-year-old ex-Vice Governor of the Altai Krai and currently a Deputy of the State Duma knows Aleksander Karlin since his childhood. The father of Bessarabov was a Deputy of the First Convocation of the State Duma; currently he is a professor at the Department of Judicature and Law Enforcement Practices of the Academy of the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation; and, most importantly, he is an old and loyal friend of the Altai Governor. Bessarabov junior, a lawyer by education, has started his political career at the age of 28 – he was elected a Deputy of the Regional Parliament. At the age of 30, he became the chairman of a committee, at 32 – a Vice Governor. It is necessary to note that Daniil Bessarabov was the youngest Vice Governor in the team of Aleksander Karlin. He used to supervise the social sphere in the region. Prior to joining the executive authorities, he had never dealt with education, healthcare, and culture – therefore, his appointment had surprised many specialists. However, with the support of the Governor (and concurrently, father’s friend), Bessarabov managed to hold this post for five years. In 2016, the young politician has been elected a Deputy of the State Duma from a single-member constituency; he had contested the election with famous federal oppositionist Vladimir Ryzhkov and won by a wide margin.
Daniil Bessarabov is currently named the desirable successor to Karlin
In fact, the political biography of the potential successor has some flaws, including indirect involvement into high-profile corruption scandals in the Altai krai. For instance, on September 13, 2017, lieutenant colonel Andrei Arestov, ex-Deputy Head of the MIA Administration for the City of Barnaul, has been sentenced to 8.5 years in a maximum security penal colony for bribe-taking on an especially large scale. During his service in the police, Arestov was involved into the notorious case of Tatiana Kozitsyna, ex-Director of the Altai Youth Theatre. In 2014, she had refused to sign the acceptance certificate for the expensive reconstruction because the works were not completed, while a major portion of the funds allocated for this reconstruction was, according to Kozitsyna, embezzled. After that incident, the Governor’s team managed to remove Kozitsyna from her post, while the police initiated a criminal case against her. The ex-director, who had been working in the Altay Youth Theatre for 16 years, was charged under part 3 of Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (misappropriation or embezzlement committed by a person through his official position). Kozitsyna allegedly hasn’t handed over a service laptop and cellphone to the new director – although by the moment of her termination, no one was appointed to that position yet. Public activists believe that Arestov was the mastermind behind the criminal prosecution of a woman awarded with the Premium “For Honor and Dignity”. The criminal case against Kozitsyna had sparked a massive public outcry; over 4 thousand producers, actors, critics, theatre researchers, screenwriters, etc. have signed a petition in her support. After the escalation of the scandal to the federal level, the case against Kozitsyna has been dismissed for absence of elements of crime. After the arrest of Arestov, the rights advocates have requested to reopen the case related to the embezzlements during the reconstruction of the Altay Youth Theatre and find the real perpetrators. It was supposed that Andrei Arestov could not act in that situation without direct instructions ‘from above’. Young Vice Governor Daniil Bessarabov was responsible for the cultural sector at that time – as well as for social issues and healthcare sphere also marred by scandals involving projects supervised by him. For instance, the perinatal center in Barnaul was commissioned unfinished. Barnaul-based Self construction company was its builder. Based on its web site, Self Limited Liability Company had no experience in the building of such large-scale facilities – however, it has won the tender with a starting price of 2.5 billion rubles ($43 million) by offering a few thousand rubles less than its competitors having the relevant experience. Nodar Shkonia, the sole founder and General Director of Self, is unofficially called ‘the purse of Sergei Loktev’. The company managed to receive a large tranche from the budget to build an elite residential complex in the regional capital. In 2011, Self has won a major tender in the adjacent Altai Republic to build the production basis for Dolina Altaya (Altai Valley) tourism and recreation special economic zone. In addition, the company performs large-scale works in Biryuzovaya Katun (Turquoise Katun) tourism and recreation special economic zone.
Andrei Arestov, ex-Deputy Head of the MIA Administration for the City of Barnaul
All the above projects had involved significant budget funds ‘spent’ by the builders. The construction sphere in the region is supervised – both officially and unofficially – by Sergei Loktev, First Vice Prime Minister of the Government of the Altai Krai and Grey Eminence of the region. The two functionaries had to align their positions to implement these schemes. By the way, after the publication about the €7 million offered for the cancellation of the Andrei Karlin’s termination and support in the appointment of the desirable successor by Kremlin Mother Expert Telegram Channel, Altai experts have supposed that Sergei Loktev might be behind the possible intrigue with the appointment of Bessarabov the new Governor. It is unlikely that Karlin can afford such a bribe – while the biggest businessman in the region may have the required sum.
At the moment, there is no direct evidence that the Karlin’s termination has been blocked in exchanged for a significant amount of money. It is obvious, however, that somehow the termination has been put on hold. There are no doubts why Karlin needs the governor’s chair so desperately and strives to appoint his associate to that position in the future. But no one can say why does the Russian Government continue keeping as inefficient regional leader as Aleksander Karlin in the Governor’s seat.