A true kindergarten: another Miass Mayor arrested
The third in succession Miass Mayor has been criminally charged, this time – with exceedance of official powers. Gennady Vas’kov has ordered his subordinates to purchase a building totally unsuitable for a kindergarten at a double price. Then renovations posing threats to children’s lives have been performed in it. The court has remanded Vas’kov in custody for two months. Local residents have no doubt that more charges are to be laid against the ex-Mayor in the near future. But why have so many Miass municipal officials rushed to submit resignation letters after the arrest of Vas’kov?
On Friday, May 11, 2018, Gennady Vas’kov, Mayor of Miass, the second largest city of the Chelyabinsk region, has submitted a voluntary resignation letter to Governor Boris Dubrovsky. The Governor has immediately accepted his resignation. Governor’s Press-Secretary Dmitry Fedechkin told journalists that Dubrovsky was displeased with the performance of the Miass Administration for a while. Vas’kov was given time to improve the political and economic situation – but no positive changes have been noted. Therefore, the Governor considers his resignation the best solution.Our
Gennady Vas’kov was born in Chebarkul, Chelyabinsk region in 1965. Graduated from the Chelyabinsk State Academy of Culture and Arts and Urals Institute of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. After the compulsory military service, became a Deputy Director of Yunost (Youth) People's Hall in Miass. Since 1994, was a Deputy Director of the Miass Center for Social Aid; in 1996, became its director. Since 2000, was in charge of Zabota (Care) Public Movement. In 2001, was appointed the Head of the Social Protection Department of the Miass Administration. In 2012, became a Deputy Head of the Miass Administration for Social Protection. In 2015, was elected the Head of the Miass Urban District. Married, has two children.
The official reason for the resignation of Vas’kov is his second service failure as the city head: in late April, the Assembly of Deputies of the Miass Urban District refused to approve the Mayor’s final report for the second time running. According to the legislation, this enables the Deputies to launch the impeachment of the city head – and they were about to do so.
On Tuesday, May 15, 2018, the Deputies were supposed to approve the termination of Vas’kov – but the law enforcement authorities have outpaced the parliamentarians: they came to the Miass Administration on the Monday morning and searched the Mayor’s office prior to his coming to work. After the arrival of Vas’kov to the municipal administration in the afternoon, plain-clothed persons accompanied by masked troops in camouflage have met him, handcuffed, put into a minibus, and drove to Chelyabinsk for questioning.
Gennady Vas’kov accompanied by operatives
On the same day, the Investigations Directorate in the Chelyabinsk Region of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has announced the institution of a criminal case against Vas’kov under paragraph “c” of part 3 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers). According to the investigation, in 2017, the official has ordered to purchase at the budget expense a building for a kindergarten at an artificially high price. The Miass Urban District has been recognized the victim. Operatives of the Regional Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation have exposed this crime.
The ICR statement refers to the Kindergarten № 3 “Umka” located in Komarovo. According to The CrimeRussia source in the regional administration, in fall 2017, Miass received 40 million rubles ($642.4 thousand) in the framework of the governmental program “Support for and development of preschool education in the Chelyabinsk region” and partisan project “Kindergartens for children” of Edinaya Rossia (United Russia) Party transformed this year into “New school” project. Vas’kov has ordered to spend a portion of this amount on acquisition of a two-storey facility built by a Miass businessman as a trade center and unsuitable for a kindergarten. Vas’kov has instructed Natalia Murzina, his deputy for the asset complex, to prepare the required documents. However, being an experienced lawyer, she refused to make this deal. Murzina was aware that questions may raise in relation to the acquisition of a facility unsuitable for a children’s preschool institution. To avoid signing any documents, the female official has hastily taken a sick leave. Then the Mayor instructed another subordinate – Yulia Nemechinova, Head of the Property Committee of the Miass Administration – to prepare the papers. Fearing of termination, she could not decline the request of her boss and produced the documents required to purchase the building not meeting the sanitary regulations and State Standards. The Mayor himself had acted with discretion and didn’t sign a single acquisition document.
Natalia Murzina, ex-deputy of Vas’kov
The building has been purchased from Individual Entrepreneur Radchenko for 24.1 million rubles ($387 thousand), including a subsidy from the regional budget in the amount of 22 million rubles ($353.3 thousand) provided to Miass to increase its kindergarten capacity. Later it became known that the real cost of the building was almost twice lower – the Chamber of Control and Accounts of the Chelyabinsk Region has found out that the cost was overcharged by at least 8 million rubles ($128.5 thousand). In order to justify the artificially high price, a Zlatoust-based commercial company was retained to produce a fake expert assessment.
Building purchased for Umka kindergarten
The newly-purchased trade center has been hastily renovated; additional funds were allocated for that purpose. According to the source, the renovation works were performed with violations – the regional branch of the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) has found that the construction materials and furniture had no certificates, while the light fixtures contained substances prohibited for use in children’s establishments. Violations were identified in the counter ceiling installation and children’s playground equipment as well. Umka kindergarten is lacking a roof drainage system, joints between tiles on its frontage are not caulked, power cables are neither laid to exterior wall nor fixed. Ramps and outdoor lighting are absent. A fire inspection has also identified numerous fire safety violations.
Despite all this, Umka kindergarten has been pompously launched in anticipation of the Presidential election. Shortly after that, the Chamber of Control and Accounts of the Chelyabinsk Region performed an audit and found that the cost of the building purchased for the kindergarten was overcharged twice as much. The investigation has interpreted the difference in price as a bribe and instituted a criminal case under part 6 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (bribe-taking on an especially large scale). On the morning of March 29, FSB operatives have searched the Miass Education Department and Committee for State Property and Land Relations and detained a number of suspects. On March 30, the Investigations Directorate in the Chelyabinsk Region of the ICR announced that charges have been laid against Tatiana Bieva, Head of the Preschool Education Department of the Miass Administration, Nikolai Ryndin, Deputy of the Miass Municipal Assembly, and Zlatoust appraiser Sergei Bogatyrev. According to the source, shortly after that, rumors started circulating in the Miass Administration that Gennady Vas’kov is about to become the next suspect in that case. However, there were no Mayor’s signatures on the documents – so he had kept out of the investigation.
Nikolai Ryndin, Deputy of the Miass Municipal Assembly
But on May 4, cardboard ceiling tiles have collapsed in the new kindergarten because of strong winds. This happened when the auditors of the Chamber of Control and Accounts were inside the building. The tiles have literally fallen on their heads. The children were not injured only because they were taken outside to allow the auditors to inspect the premises. According to kindergarten staff witnessing the incident, the inspectors were indignant not only with the poor quality of the ceiling tiles installation – it turned out that the entire finishing of the building was made of cardboard, ventilation was nonfunctional, and there was no insulation between the second floor and roof.
The incident became the ‘last straw’ for the enforcement structures and regional authorities. On May 8, the Chamber of Control and Accounts has submitted the audit report to Governor Boris Dubrovsky and Denis Chernyatiev, Head of the Investigations Directorate in the Chelyabinsk Region of the ICR. Murzina and Nemechinova have testified that Vas’kov had personally ordered them to produce purchase documents for the building. On May 11, a criminal case has been instituted against the Mayor. On the same day, Dubrovsky sent one of his subordinates to the disgraced official. Early in morning, he arrived to Miass and had a private conversation with Vas’kov. The Mayor was notified of the criminal case instituted against him and immediately submitted a resignation latter – although earlier he had tried to convince the Deputies to give him some time to remedy the situation. The city head had even planned to sue the Deputies rejecting his report for the second time... After the ‘voluntary’ resignation of Vas’kov, the Governor’s Press Service announced that Dubrovsky has terminated the Miass Mayor. This is how the Governor has shrugged off the corrupt official.
On May 15, the Traktorozavodsky District Court of Chelyabinsk has remanded Vas’kov in custody for two months – until July 14. Journalist were allowed to attend the court session held to determine the pretrial restrictions – although the defense had asked to hold a closed court hearing. However, the judge refused to expel the media from the courtroom.
Gennady Vas’kov in court
The defense team of Vas’kov consisted of three lawyers. They have made every effort to prevent the incarceration of the ex-Mayor. The attorneys have presented to the court a whole bunch of certificates of honor and commendation letters awarded to their client for meritorious service – their reading took almost half an hour. They claimed that Vas’kov suffers from gastric ulcer and cannot be kept in detention. The lawyers tried to convince the judge that the two ex-Mayor’s adult children still require father’s support, especially his 21-year-old student daughter. In addition, elderly parents of the suspects needed his physical assistance. However, the prosecutor has dismissed all the defense arguments as flimsy and said that Vas’kov had repeatedly attempted to suppress evidence and may abscond after being re-designated from a witness to suspect in this criminal case. The judge upheld the stance of the state prosecution.
Vas’kov denies any guilt and claims that he had never given any illegal orders to no one: “The prosecution is based on testimonies of witnesses having a personal animus and obtained incorrectly – possibly, under pressure. I had never instructed anybody do sign the purchase agreement upon pain of dismissal”. The ex-Mayor has already announced his defense strategy: “I suppose that the purchase price was determined not based on the building value – but based on the cost of one child’s bed space in a kindergarten commissioned on a turnkey basis: we needed an establishment able to accommodate 50 children. These are all work-related issues; I never had a malicious intent”.
Vas’kov had already used the same strategy in June 2017, after searches in the Miass Administration and Mayor’s office. At that time, Vas’kov was also escorted from the building by operatives – but through the service entrance, not the front door. However, on the next day, the Mayor returned to work and told the local media that such searches are “a routine procedure”, while all the issues are “work-related”.
Shortly after searches, the Investigations Directorate in the Chelyabinsk Region of the ICR has explained that the documents were seized in the framework of a criminal case instituted under part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling). In 2016, officials of the Miass Administration have committed fraud during the conveyance of municipal lands. Denis Chernyatiev, Head of the Investigations Directorate in the Chelyabinsk Region of the ICR, has taken personal control over that case. According to the source, the audit that has identified the artificially high cost of the building purchased for Umka kindergarten was carried out as per personal instruction of Chernyatiev. New charges, including land fraud, may be laid against Vas’kov in the foreseeable future. The 3rd Department for Special Cases of the Regional Investigations Directorate is currently handling the case instituted against the former Miass Mayor.
Denis Chernyatiev, Head of the Investigations Directorate in the Chelyabinsk Region of the ICR, has taken personal control over the case
This version is indirectly confirmed by the fact that after the arrest of Vas’kov, many his subordinates rushed to resign from the municipal administration. As early as on April 14, Dmitry Melekhin, Head of the Legal Department, has quit his job. Tadyi Uminsky, Advisor to the Mayor for Social Matters, Vice Mayor for Economic Matters Irina Serko, and Chief of Staff Nikolai Belyaev have submitted resignation letters as well. It can’t be ruled out that the officials have left to avoid inconvenient questions from the enforcement authorities.
Dmitry Melekhin, ex-Head of the Legal Department of the Miass Administration
According to the source, the arrest of Vas’kov should intensify the investigation of several other criminal cases. One of those was instituted against yet-unidentified employees of the Miass Administration under part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers). It pertains to a high-profile ‘asphalt removal’ episode dated 2016. Urban Service Municipal Unitary Enterprise and City Management Company Municipal Unitary Enterprise have paid for roadbed removal works performed by Ural-Mair Limited Liability Company from the turnover funds and without a tender. Nikolai Ryndin was in charge of Ural-Mair at that time. The company received 2.4 million rubles ($38.5 thousand), including an overpayment of more than 1 million rubles ($16.1 thousand). Vas’kov was already questioned in the framework of that case. The investigation believes that the Mayor has personally ordered the directors of the municipal unitary enterprises to accept this deal. Another criminal case pertains to a gas pipeline in Serostan township, Miass Urban District existing only on paper. Lotorenergo Limited Liability Company was in charge of this construction project; earlier it had also belonged to Ryndin. So far, Vas’kov is a witness in this case.
Vladimir Grigoriadi, ex-Mayor of Miass
However, the ‘criminal achievements’ of Vas’kov are no match for the deeds of his predecessors. For instance, ex-Mayor of Miass Vladimir Grigoriadi was sentenced to 8 years behind bars and fined 1 million rubles ($16.1 thousand) for taking several bribes totaling over 1 million rubles ($16.1 thousand) for allocating lands for store and car wash construction and signing the commissioning certificate for Tekhnoland store.
Former city manager Viktor Ardab’evsky has been charged with banditry and contract killings as a member of Turbazovskie criminal group. According to the investigation, Ardab’evsky has contracted murders of Andrei Paduchin, General Director of Trek (Track) Closed Joint Stock Company, and Pavel Sidorov, Director of Nadezhda (Hope) company. The both enterprises had produced parts for Ural vehicles and competed with Kedr (Cedar) company belonging to Ardab’evsky. The ex-Mayor has been charged under paragraphs “a”, “g”, and “h” of part 2 of Article 105 (murder of two or more persons committed by a group of persons out of mercenary motives by hire) and part 2 of Article 209 (participation in a stable armed group (crew)) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The trial of Ardab’evsky and several other members of Turbazovskie organized criminal group is still ongoing.
It is necessary to keep in mind that over the past decade, Vas’kov was in charge of Miass longer than any other city head. Only Grigoriadi and Ardab’evsky managed to outlast him in the Mayor’s chair.