Ekaterina Lukianenko: brilliant professional or two-tongued careerist?
The trial of Ekaterina Lukianenko, ex-Minister of Social Development and Labor of the Astrakhan Region, is over. Aid to those in need, support for disabled people, care of orphans, assistance in job search – the official, convicted of bribery, was supervising all these spheres personally. According to witnesses, the Ministry headed by Ekaterina Lukianenko was one of the most corrupt institutions in the Astrakhan Regional Government.
The criminal case against Ekaterina Lukianenko was initiated by the regional Investigations Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR). The ex-Minister was arrested on June 6, 2015 while accepting a bribe of 260 thousand rubles. This amount was a part of the 700 thousand tribute laid by Lukianenko on heads of institutions subordinate to the Ministry of Social Development and Labor.
According to the investigation, since March 2014 subordinates have paid to Ekaterina Lukianenko more than 2 million rubles – in exchange for patronage, bonuses and keeping their positions. The ex-Minister was under home arrest since the indictment; the woman wore an electronic bracelet tracing all her movements.
The trial started on January 12, 2016. That month Ekaterina Lukianenko broke her hand for the first time; another such accident occurred with the defendant just recently. The court hearing scheduled to June 14, 2016 was adjourned again due to medical reasons. It cannot be ruled out that the defense was purposively delaying the trial; the defense attorney Alexander Moiseenko used any opportunity to postpone the verdict.
In the past, this lawyer had already attempted to affect the court decision by appealing to the poor health condition of the defendant – when he was representing Mikhail Stolyarov, ex-Mayor of Astrakhan.
Could Lukianenko break her hand on purpose – to delay the proceedings until a superior official intervenes or until she makes arrangements with some influential enforcement authority? The question remains open. From the other side, a familiar doctor could provide a fake medical letter and put the arm in plaster for a good remuneration. The former official completely denies any guilt in crimes she is charged with.
State Prosecutor Oksana Sagiyan asked to convict Lukianenko of the incriminated offence and sentence her to 9 years in a general regime penal colony and fine of 152,775,000 rubles.
On June 30, 2016 the Astrakhan Regional Court has announced the verdict: “Lukianenko, being a governmental official, received monetary bribes for general patronage and forbearance. The court believes that the guilt of Lukianenko was established. The court found Lukianenko guilty under part 6 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation”. She was sentenced to 4 years in a general regime penal colony and fine of 52 million rubles.
Friends since the Komsomol youth
An important detail is that Lukianenko is an old friend and teammate of Alexander Zhilkin, the Governor of the Astrakhan Region. They are members of the same management team since their Komsomol youth and used to work together for a long period under the authority of late Anatoly Guzhvin, former head of the region.
Zhilkin and Lukianenko both graduated from the Astrakhan State Pedagogical Institute. They became friends back in the 1980s, being activists of the Kamyzyak District Komsomol Committee. Alexander was the principal of Kaspiisk eight-year school when the political reforms began in Russia. Ekaterina was the Executive Secretary in the Juvenile Affairs Commission of the local District Executive Committee. She made a successful career in the Komsomol and became an instructor and then – the Secretary of the Kamyzyak District Komsomol Committee.
The young Komsomol members lived merry lives that time and remained friends. They conducted humor contests between youth teams and other public events, enjoyed creative and diverse recreation. Zhilkin managed to climb to the regional level: in 1988 he became the First Secretary of the Regional Komsomol Committee and later – a Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR.
Upon establishing himself in the regional circles of power, Alexander began gathering his old friends and teammates from the Kamyzyak District around him in Astrakhan. Enthusiastic Ekaterina was among them.
In 1993 Lukianenko became the Head of the Youth Social Service of the Astrakhan Region. Then she became the Chairman of the Committee for Youth Affairs of the regional administration.
During all the years of joint work, the Astrakhan Governor treated Ekaterina Lukianenko as a solid comrade and friend. She was a member of his inner circle of trusted people, whose careers totally depended on political success of Alexander Zhilkin. Lukianenko fully understood this and always provided full support to her boss.
Currently the governor is trying to distance himself from the bribe-taker. He removed Lukianenko from her post on June 5, 2016 (retroactively – one day before her arrest) due to “loss of trust”.
However, the corruption scandal still affects Zhilkin negatively. The arrest of the Minister of Social Development and Labor is not the first time when law enforcement authorities scrutinize his inner circle.
For example, on June 4, 2015 the Kirovsky District Court of Astrakhan closed, due to the expiry of the period of limitation, a criminal case against Ivan Nesterenko, ex-Minister of Agriculture of the region. The high-ranked official was accused of negligence that caused damages of 30 million rubles to the state budget. The investigators started looking into activities of the former minister because of machinations with state subsidies for Astrakhancky Product Open Joint Stock Company, which was later privatized.
The following people have lost their positions in the Astrakhan Regional Government following anti-corruption inquiries: Viktor Chalov, the Minister of Health; Nina Popova, Head of the Agency for State Property Management of the Astrakhan Region; and Irina Tarasova, the Minister of Culture, whose spending of budget funds on restoration of historical and architectural monuments attracted attention of law enforcement.
Contrariwise, a criminal case against Mikhail Stolyarov, ex-mayor of Astrakhan, strengthened Alexander Zhilkin’s positions in the regional politics. Stolyarov, who was sentenced in the end of 2014 to nine years in a penal colony and a fine of 500 million rubles for a bribe of 10 million rubles, did not belong to the governor’s team – he was a protege of Sergey Bozhenov, head of the Volgograd region since February 2012 and until April 2014. Therefore, the corruption scandal with Stolyarov was beneficial for the Zhilkin’s group: now they totally control the administration of the regional capital.
Money for nose plastic surgery
Two main prosecution witnesses in the Lukianenko case provided testimonies in the Privolzhsky District Court: Olga Sorokina, the Principal of Istok Social Rehabilitation Center for Minors; and Irina Kozhina, former Principal of the Social Rehabilitation Center for Minors of the Narimanov District.
According to Sorokina, in the beginning of 2014 the defendant entrusted her with an important mission: collect bribes. Heads of all subordinate institutions had to contribute 20 thousand rubles each to the New Year Day, Social Worker’s Day, Teacher’s Day, and Lukianenko’s birthday. The total amount received every holiday was approximately 380 thousand rubles. The prosecution witness was delivering the money to the ex-minister at her cottage or in her apartment.
The subordinates had to make ‘contributions’ because they all had contract positions and were afraid of being fired. From the other side, those employees who were gladly giving money for boss’s needs could not worry about surprise checks or disciplinary punishments; they received bonuses regularly. Therefore, many principals of subordinate institutions were putting money aside in advance – to be prepared when another ‘contribution’ request comes from the ministry.
Investigation against Lukianenko started following a written complaint on bribe extortion submitted to law enforcement by another prosecution witness – Irina Kozhina. She stated that she was asked to provide money for a noble cause – plastic surgery for her boss’s nose.
The witnesses called the Ministry of Social Development and Labor headed by Lukianenko one of the most corrupt institutions in the Astrakhan region.
Kozhina told that she had addressed the superior authorities more than once, trying to get funds for renovation of the social rehabilitation center for minors where she was the principal. But all her requests were denied. Finally, electrical wiring in the living quarters deteriorated so much that the premises became unsafe for the children.
In such situation, the principal of the social rehabilitation center has submitted a written note to Lukianenko disclaiming all liability for the unsafe wiring. However, instead of building renovation requested by Kozhina, she was just fired.
“Greeting cards in envelopes”
The defense for Ekaterina Lukianenko insisted on her innocence. Attorney Alexander Moiseenko believes that the criminal case is based on facts that can’t be considered direct and irrefutable evidence of accepting bribes.
The suspect told the court that Olga Sorokina calumniates her. According to the defendant, the witness was collecting the money on her own initiative and for her own needs, referring to instructions allegedly received from the boss. And the heads of subordinate institutions paid the money because they were tricked by Sorokina.
Lukianenko specifically noted that she never provided patronage to subordinates, but instead kept strict watch of their performance. Sometimes she had to make tough decisions and fire those who performed poorly.
The defendant explained the origin of money found during the search: proceeds of sale of the husband’s car and personal savings. The ex-minister refuted testimonies of witnesses stating that they were personally giving envelopes with bribes to Lukianenko. She said that the envelopes contained… greeting cards to various holidays.
The defendant admitted receiving a large amount of money from Sorokina on June 6, 2015. But she explained that the funds were allocated for an interregional forum of social workers which was not included into the official schedule of events but still had to be conducted in Astrakhan on June 22–24, 2015.
A defense witness – Ekaterina Shatokhina, Deputy Head of the Department of Children Safeguarding of the Ministry of Social Development and Labor of the Astrakhan Region, – confirmed Lukianenko’s words. The official told the court that in May 2015 she was instructed by her former boss to make all required preparations for the forum which would be attended by guests from other Russian regions.
Shatokhina explained that the decision to host a forum of social workers was made after the Astrakhan region became one of the five regions chosen by the Aid for Children Charitable Fund to implement its pilot project. Being the developers of the base program, the Astrakhan social workers wanted to share their experience with colleagues from other Russian regions.
Another witness also interceded for the former boss – Lyubov Ryshova, Head of the Division for Development of Family Adoption Forms for the Children of the Department of Children Safeguarding of the Ministry of Social Development and Labor of the Astrakhan Region. She confirmed her participation in preparations for the forum which was planned as a mass event.
Judge Lilia Bavieva asked how could an event be conducted by state authorities without an official approval, inclusion into the official schedule, and budget funding? There was no direct response to this question, Lukianenko just said that, although she was not following the official procedure, she still acted “for the benefit of the cause”.
“All sins will be forgiven for an orphan”
Main virtues of Ekaterina Lukianenko, noted by all her friends and colleagues, are her activity, commitment, and working capacity.
“I studied in the same group with her and remember Katya since our student times. She was arranging something all the time, she could not just sit and do nothing. Of course, people change over time, and power corrupts human beings, but this girl always was a natural-born leader, organizer, and propagandist,” – Anna Petrova, an Astrakhan resident, told CrimeRussia.
Adelya Amirova, a native of the Kamyzyak district, remembers Ekaterina Lukianenko since their joint Komsomol youth: “She was very nice and positive, open to people. Then rumors started circulating about improper deeds of our countrywoman, but I did not want to believe. I think that all sins will be forgiven to Katya for the orphan”.
Indeed, many people call Lukianenko a respectable woman and excellent mother. She has raised three children: a son and two daughters, one of which was adopted. The official has two grandchildren.
Some colleagues still believe that the ex-minister is a true professional.
“I am very sorry about this. Lukianenko has done so much for the people, for the Astrakhan region; she sacrificed her holidays, was always thinking about work – and here is the result… Now everybody turned away from her, including those who just recently were praising her and giving awards for charitable activities and aid for those in need,” – an employee in the regional Ministry of Social Development and Labor said, asking not to mention her name.
This employee did not want to be suspected of sympathy to the former boss, whose name is now forbidden, due to potential negative consequences.
In addition, Ekaterina Lukianenko was awarded a medal of the Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 2nd Class and a medal of the Order of Merit for the Astrakhan Region. She is a Honorary Educator of the Russian Federation.
People call her a two-tongued careerist
But the majority of people familiar with the ex-minister and interviewed by the CrimeRussia correspondent spoke negatively of the defendant.
“Katya always was two-tongued and greedy. She came to the power to snatch more. I know such people, they won’t buy a sheet of paper on their own money – because they are so accustomed to live at the expense of the state. Lukianenko adopted an orphan girl to promote herself. She was afraid to lose her position. She thought: no one would fire a foster mother,” – Irina Alexeeva, a small business owner, says.
The head of a budget institution subordinate to the Ministry of Social Development and Labor, who asked not to mention his name, agrees: “They don’t say this aloud, but there are lot of people in the Ministry who still sympathize Lukianenko. This is a real ‘mafia’. I am afraid they would give me hard time if they become aware of this conversation. Generally speaking, Katya is a careerist. For her whole life, under disguise of respectableness, she was hiding greed, ambitions, and imperious temper. This women broke lives of many people on her path. Take, for example, her friend Lebedeva or remember the story of Alexander Dairov”.
According to people close to the Astrakhan regional authorities, in the 1990s a public activist Alexander Dairov appeared at the local political stage and dedicated himself to an important goal – patriotic education of youth. Many people saw features of a true leader in him. Lukianenko understood this, too. But she was not happy with this. The Chairman of the Committee for Youth Affairs considered Dairov a direct pretender to her post.
Absolutely unrelated people tell the same story: Lukianenko inspired a criminal prosecution against the activist. In the end of the 1990s, Alexander Dairov was found guilty of fraud and served a prison term due a framed-up case.
“She was so afraid to lose her post that put an innocent person to jail,” – Svetlana Spitsina, an Astrakhan resident, says straight.
Dairov, upon release from the place of confinement, continued his cause. Currently he is the Chairman of the Regional Association for Patriotic, Legal, and Physical Training of Youth. Under the guidance of the social activist, may young Astrakhan residents became involved into the Scouting movement, while relatives of soldiers killed in World War II, became aware of their destiny and were able to visit their tombs.
The story of Elena Lebedeva, former Principal of Ulibka (Smile) Orphan Home of the Narimanov District, also does not reflect well on Lukianenko.
For much of 2014, Lebedeva was issuing bonuses to her staff, but the money were not paid to them. The orphan home principal used this original trick to save funds for regular ‘contributions’ to Lukianenko. These financial machinations attracted attention of law enforcement authorities. A criminal case was initiated against Lebedeva under part 1 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of power).
According to people close to the Ministry of Social Development and Labor, the woman prosecuted by law enforcement authorities hoped to get help from Lukianenko – after all, the principal was collecting money for her. Lebedeva thought that Lukianenko would at least cover expensive lawyer’s fees. But the ex-minister just fired the former friend retroactively and forgot about her.
Interestingly, in the same period of time, in an interview to MK v Astrakhani newspaper, Ekaterina Lukianenko said with pathos: “I believe that every person must feel comfortable in the collective, be a member of the single team, be confident that others understand him and would help in a difficult situation. This is our goal. I believe that it is the team spirit, which helps us to handle so many duties assigned to the ministry and its subordinate institutions”.
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