Bashkir kraken. How much is justice and who buys it?
Corruption is overwhelming in the Republic of Bashkortostan. It infiltrates all branches of power. The recent arrests in the Bashkir Prosecutor’s Office clearly show that justice can be bought and sold there, while the verdict of Themis depends only on the purse size. All powerful officials and businessmen in the republic know how much it costs to institute or dismiss a case. After the replacement of the regional head, the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation has found out that not only the supreme authorities of the Republican Prosecutor’s Office are involved in the corruption scheme – but judges and high-ranked police commanders as well. What officials have sullied their reputation with bribe-taking and are going to fall victims to yet another sweeping purge? What are millions of rubles paid for? What is the true scale of corruption in the region – champion among national republics by that parameter?
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, at year-end 2017, the Republic of Bashkortostan became the leader among national republics by corruption. Among all the Russian regions, the republic holds the seventh place by the number of exposed bribes. Therefore, this year, the federal center has launched a sweeping purge of Bashkortostan starting from its Prosecutor’s Office.
There were no high-profile arrests in the republican watchdog authority in the past. Just a few low-ranked officers were prosecuted – for instance, Iskander Rezyapov, Deputy Prosecutor of the Kalininsky District, or Anton Fedyaev, Senior Assistant Prosecutor of the Kirovsky District of Ufa. Therefore, the arrests of supreme prosecution functionaries became an unpleasant surprise for the agency.
On August 14, 2018, operatives of the FSB Directorate for the Republic of Bashkortostan detained Uchaly Inter-District Prosecutor Nail’ Khalilov. According to the investigation, he had received bribes from businessman Igor Kazakov, ex-Mayor of Uchaly and Deputy of the Local Council, for three years. Khalilov has been charged under part 5 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (bribe-taking on an especially large scale). It is necessary to note that Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has personally authorized the inquest against Khalilov and his arrest.
On September 10, FSB operatives arrested Ramil Garifullin, Prosecutor of the Sovetsky District of Ufa, on suspicion of taking a bribe in the amount of 5 million rubles ($75.7 thousand).
The bag with money was given to him by Vadim Ramazanov, a Deputy of the Ufa Municipal Council known in Bashkortostan as a ‘fixer’ having ties with top regional officials.
The Prosecutor of the Sovetsky District had a reputation of a very cautious person. However, he fouled up dealing with Ramazanov – who had already acted in the past as an intermediary settling delicate issues. Therefore, not only has Garifullin taken the bag with money in his office – but also audibly pronounced the amount of the bribe, which was recorded by the operatives.
According to a source close to the investigation, Ramazanov has delivered a bribe paid in exchange for ‘patronage’ extended by the prosecutors to a local businessman in the arbitration court.
The Deputy was not willing to frame up Garifullin – but had to do this to avoid prosecution.
A day before, FSB officers have arrested the ‘fixer’ in the airport – he was going to flee Ufa. After being severely pressurized, Ramazanov agreed to collaborate with the investigation and delivered the money to the prosecutor under the surveillance of the operatives.
The Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bashkortostan has specially noted that the operative actions were not only agreed with the Prosecutor General’s Office – but personally authorized by Yuri Chaika. It turned out that the FSB inquest against Garifullin was ongoing for more than a year. The criminal case against the prosecutor having a special subject status was instituted by Yuri Rusanov, Acting Head of the Investigations Directorate in the Republic of Bashkortostan of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR).
The office and home of Garifullin have been searched. According to unofficial information, the operatives found there more than 100 million rubles ($1.5 million) in cash and items whose value exceeds the official income of the prosecutor’s family. Local media outlets wrote that the total value of movable and immovable assets of Garifullin exceeds 180 million rubles ($2.7 million). In the course of his service to Themis, the Bashkir prosecutor has acquired seven apartments in Ufa, Moscow, and Sochi and a few homes.
A criminal case has been instituted against Garifullin under part 6 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (bribe-taking on an especially large scale); the suspect was remanded in custody for two months. The investigators found out that the Prosecutor of the Sovetsky District of Ufa had planned to keep only a small portion of the received sum – the rest of the bribe was intended for his colleagues to settle issues of some businessmen.
The investigators supposed that the monies were intended for Oleg Gorbunov, First Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic of Bashkortostan, – the Prosecutor of the Sovetsky District was a member of his close circle.
To receive the required testimonies against Gorbunov, the operatives had to get tough with the suspect. Igor Ermolaev, an attorney for Garifullin, told journalists that his client was psychologically pressurized and physically intimidated in the pretrial detention facility, including threats from some visiting ICR officers not involved with the investigation team. According to the lawyer, the prosecutor’s wife and children had also received threats.
Apparently, the intimidation tactics have worked. According to the Bashkir media, not only has the Prosecutor of the Sovetsky District started talking – but even surrendered to the investigators report files indicating the sums passing through his hands, bribe recipients, and what the bribes were paid for. It turned out that Garifullin had scrupulously videotaped all ‘special' visitors and documented the amounts taken by him, transferred to colleagues, and even the declined bribes.
His notebook includes names of high-ranked functionaries of the Prosecutor’s Office, governmental executive bodies, law enforcement structures, and judicial community.
The prosecutor used to keep the records in the strongbox in his office. Garifullin’s notebook became a real ‘treasure’ for the FSB operatives. His ‘memoir’ documentarily confirmed the rumors circulating in the republic: an organized criminal community operates in Ufa helping high-ranked officials and influential businessmen to evade criminal liability.
With the authorization of the federal center, the law enforcement services launched a sweeping purge of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bashkortostan and Investigations Directorate in the Republic of Bashkortostan of the ICR. Il’dar Yumaguzhin, an Investigator of the Investigative Department in the City of Sterlitamak, who used to work jointly with the Prosecutor of the Sovetsky District of Ufa, was arrested during the handover of a bribe in the amount of 50 thousand rubles ($757). This seemingly unremarkable arrest had far-reaching implications.
The events started escalating. On September 17, 2018, the Prosecutor General’s Office initiated an extraordinary audit of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bashkortostan. The regional watchdog authority confirmed that “a small group of auditors” has been dispatched from Moscow and already started working. On October 5, the Prosecutor General’s Office has instructed Andrei Nazarov, Prosecutor of the Republic of Bashkortostan, to report the supervision of high-profile anti-corruption inquests ongoing in the region. The instruction was issued by Aleksander Buksman, First Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, following a request from the State Duma.
An unidentified Deputy has stated that “interests of businesses, officials, judges, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors are merging in Bashkortostan”. The author of the request asked the Prosecutor General to take under personal control the investigation of corruption crimes committed by republican officials, prosecution officers, and policemen. The document refers not only to the criminal cases instituted against Khalilov and Garifullin – but also against Il’nur Yusupov and Igor Vorobiev, operatives of the anti-corruption division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) for the Republic of Bashkortostan, and Rail’ Mirgaliev, operative of the Administration of Internal Security of the MIA for the Republic of Bashkortostan. Upon receiving the request, Buksman has officially instructed Nazarov “to verify every above-mentioned case” and, if necessary, take required measures.
A storm has broken out behind the scenes. The public became aware of it only a few days later – on October 11, 2018. On that day, Rustem Khamitov, Head of the Republic of Bashkortostan since 2010, announced that he has submitted a resignation letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Khamitov explained his voluntary resignation as follows: “golden-aged regional heads must make decisions on the end of their career in a timely fashion”. But all residents of the republic understood the true reason behind this statement: high-profile corruption cases launched by the FSB affect the close circle of Khamitov. Therefore, the Head of the Republic rushed to quit.
On October 11, Vladimir Putin appointed Radii Khabirov, a native of Bashkortostan, the Acting Head of the Republic. According to a source in the regional administration, the new regional head gave carte blanche to the law enforcement authorities – and they used this opportunity. The change of power resulted in a large-scale clampdown on the criminal community infiltrating all the regional enforcement structures under the rule of Rustem Khamitov.
Gorbunov was the first and easiest target. Apparently, he was fully aware of this. On October 22, 2018, the First Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic of Bashkortostan has submitted a resignation letter due to retirement. On October 26, the Prosecutor General's Office accepted the resignation of Gorbunov. But on the same day, FSB operatives have arrested the new retiree in Sheremetyevo International Airport. Gorbunov was literally pulled off the aircraft ramp while attempting to flee to Germany where he has a home.
Immediately after the arrest, the suspect has been escorted to the central ICR headquarters. A criminal case has been instituted against Gorbunov under part 6 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (bribe-taking). The second suspect in this case is Artur Sharetdinov, Deputy Head of the Department for Overseeing Criminal-Procedural and Operative and Search Activities of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bashkortostan. He has also been detained on suspicion of bribe-taking.
According to the investigation, in 2017, Gorbunov and Sharetdinov have received, via intermediaries, 10 million rubles ($151.5 thousand) from Aleksander Filippov, then-Fist Deputy Mayor of Ufa for Construction. The prosecutors took the bribe for annulment of the order to institute criminal proceedings in relation to machinations committed during the resettlement of citizens from dilapidated housing.
In 2017, the Investigations Directorate in the Republic of Bashkortostan of the ICR has instituted a criminal case against officials of the Ufa Mayor's House for exceedance of official powers in the course of implementation of the federal resettlement program. According to the investigation, for several years, the municipal officials had included into the state program residential neighborhoods earlier transferred to developers under development contracts. Instead of rehousing the residents at their own expense, the developers did this at the public cost. The investigation estimated the damages sustained by the budget due to the actions of the Ufa officials at 1.6 billion rubles ($24.2 million). Aleksander Filippov, ex-Vice Mayor of Ufa and a protege of Rustem Khamitov's wife, was among the suspects in this case. In order to annul the order to institute criminal proceedings, the official has paid 10 million rubles ($151.5 thousand) to Gorbunov. In March 2017, the First Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic of Bashkortostan has recognized the above order illegal. Later, the republican prosecutor has supported his stance. However, Viktor Grin', Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, annulled the decision of the Bashkir prosecutors, and the inquest has been resumed. Then it became known that the ruling of the high-ranked republican prosecutors "was caused by financial incentives received from Ufa officials".
Svetlana Petrenko, an official representative of the ICR, emphasized that the criminal case against Gorbunov and Sharetdinov was instituted by a deputy of ICR Chairman Alexander Bastrykin, while the inquest has been launched following an initiative of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Immediately after the institution of a criminal case against Gorbunov, the experts suggested that this corruption scandal will result in the resignation of lieutenant general Andrei Nazarov, Prosecutor of the Republic of Bashkortostan. Following his submission, Gorbunov received a retirement benefit in the amount of 20 monthly salaries – some 4.3 million rubles ($65.1 thousand) – and allowance for the rank of major general of justice.
Oleg Gorbunov in court
Sources in the Bashkir Prosecutor’s Office give a simple explanation of Nazarov’s loyalty to his first deputy. The lieutenant general was in charge of the republican watchdog authority only nominally – in reality, Gorbunov had ruled it, while Nazarov turned a blind eye to everything in a hope to be promoted and transferred to Moscow. According to influential Bashkir rights activist Il’giz Yusupov, Gorbunov always was “a more powerful figure than the republican prosecutor”. “I know from prosecution officers that the Head of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bashkortostan was somehow dependent on decisions of his first deputy. Gorbunov was considered ‘unsinkable’ – numerous complaints against him had no effect, and the image of a prosecution officer was discredited in the public view. I don’t rule out that the current audit of the Republican Prosecutor’s Office exposes many other interesting things as well,” – Yusupov said.
According to the insiders, a new, larger group of auditors from the Prosecutor General’s Office is currently heading to Ufa. First of all, the Moscow auditors are going to review all cases handled by Gorbunov. Because he was the key figure in the regional watchdog agency, this review should affect the entire procuratorial supervision system. Experts expect not only Nazarov to leave the office – but at least 10 high-ranked prosecution officials involved in corruption schemes as well. The investigators intend to charge Gorbunov with creation of a criminal community and prosecute all its members. Some potential suspects in this case have already been named, including Aleksander Galitsyn, Head of the Department for Overseeing Criminal-Procedural and Operative and Search Activities, and Zakir Izgin, Head of the HR Department and brother-in-law of detained Artur Sharetdinov.
There is no shortage of evidence at all. Garifullin's notebook became a miraculous ‘gift' for the investigators. The records made by the Prosecutor of the Sovetsky District of Ufa have already been used to charge businessman Feim Mukhitov – another ‘fixer' well-known in Bashkortostan and settling issues for influential figures – with mediation in bribery. Similarly with prosecutor Garifullin, Mukhitov was a person from the close circle of Gorbunov and Sharetdinov.
The close ties between the ‘fixer’ and Zakir Izgin make it possible to suppose that the Head of the HR Department of the Prosecutor’s Office is another potential member of the ‘procuratorial kraken’ ensnaring Bashkortostan.
In the meantime, Filippov made another invaluable gift to the corruption fighters. To avoid a real prison term for the bribe given to Gorbunov, he made a plea deal and started testifying not only against high-ranked prosecution officers – but also against Ufa Mayor Irek Yalalov, former republican head Rustem Khamitov, and his spouse. Expert portals report that the law enforcement structures have already expressed interest in the operations of Makhamat Charitable Education Fund chaired by Gul'shat Khamitova – this organization had handled really big money. However, it is hard to say at this point whether the testimonies of Filippov would be actually used for prosecution purposes – because this may completely discredit the governmental authority in the republic.
Rustem and Gul’shat Khamitov
Some potential suspects in the corruption cases have already left their cushy jobs unwilling to wait for the arrival of FSB operatives. For instance, relatives of ‘fixer’ Ramazanov have resigned in late September. His uncle Faim Ramazanov, Deputy Chairman of the Demsky District Court of Ufa, and aunt Al’fia Ramazanova, Judge of the Kirovsky District Court of Ufa, have both submitted voluntary resignation letters. Now clan Ramazanov has only one acting judge – Artur, a cousin of the Deputy. He continues serving a justice of the peace at judicial district № 2 in the Ufa district. Rafat Yuldashev, Chairman of the Judicial Council of the Republic of Bashkortostan, also retains his post yet. Tatiana Garifullina, spouse of detained Ramil Garifullin, does not intend to resign as well. She serves a justice of the peace at judicial district № 3 in the Oktyabrsky district of Ufa.
Another person from Gorbunov’s close circle – businessman Nail’ Valeev – may come to the attention of the law enforcement authorities in the near future. According to well-aware sources, the entrepreneur is also well-known in the republic as a ‘fixer’ able to deliver money to ‘right’ offices. But Valeev also played another important rule: prosecution officers had frequently visited his hunting lodge in Yalkibaevo village, Ufa district. High-ranked MIA and judicial officials also liked to vacate in this hunting estate – jointly with prosecutors, they had decided the fate of criminal cases outdoors.
After all, it is not that important who else is going to be criminally charged. The point is that as far back as three years ago, it was already known that a not-so-secretive group of prosecutors, investigators, and judges instituting and dismissing criminal cases for bribes operates in the republic. In 2014, young officers of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bashkortostan have submitted a complaint to Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika. The whistleblowers have provided all facts known to them, described in detail the operations of the criminal community, listed prices for prosecutors’ ‘services’, and attached evidence of corruption crimes committed under the leadership of Gorbunov and passive eye of Nazarov. However, this complaint had no effect. It was necessary to replace the republican authorities first to launch a sweeping purge of all branches of power marred by corruption.