Execution list. Arrests in Astrakhan region – continuation of sweeping purge in Dagestan? 

Execution list. Arrests in Astrakhan region – continuation of sweeping purge in Dagestan?
Photo: The CrimeRussia

The almost entire Council of Ministers of the Astrakhan Region is currently held in a pretrial detention facility. New Governor Igor Babushkin initiated mass arrests in the regional government. An unprecedented number of high-ranked officials have been detained – and this seems to be just the beginning of a large-scale purge of local elite groups. Will the demonstrative clampdown on corrupt ministers end after the gubernatorial elections? Or the Astrakhan region is going to become yet another evidence that governmental functionaries are no longer untouchable in Russia?

On July 26, 2019, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) announced that two high-ranked Astrakhan officials – Rasul Sultanov, ex-Chairman of the Government of the Astrakhan Region, and Vitaly Shvedov, Minister of Finance and Interim Acting Chairman of the Government of the Astrakhan Region, – have been charged under part 3 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of official powers entailing grave consequences).

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Vitaly Shvedov

Sultanov has voluntarily resigned from his post five days after the appointment of Igor Babushkin the Interim Acting Governor of the Astrakhan Region on June 5, 2019. After his resignation, Shvedov had concurrently performed duties of the Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Regional Government.

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Rasul Sultanov

According to the investigation, Sultanov and Shvedov have contracted a loan in the amount of some 6 billion rubles ($94.5 million) in a bank – even though the budget of the Astrakhan region had enough funds, and there was no need to incur a debt. The interest rate of this loan was artificially high – 7 to 8.5%. The investigators believe that if the credit were really necessary, it could be received at a much lower interest rate of 0.1%. As a result, the regional budget sustained damages amounting to 212 million rubles ($3.3 million). The ICR has specially noted that the criminal actions of Sultanov and Shvedov have compromised the authority of municipal branches of power.

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Operative photos taken during the search in the home of Rasul Sultanov

On June 27, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don has remanded Sultanov and Shvedov in custody for two months. On the same day, the ICR has published an operative video of searches carried out in the luxurious mansion of Sultanov. The footage shows collections of expensive weapons and watches, as well as jewelry apparently belonging to the suspect's wife.

According to a source in the law enforcement structures, the prosecution of Sultanov won't be limited to one criminal case. The investigation is going to check governmental acquisitions made in the interests of companies affiliated with the former Chairman of the Regional Government. On the other hand, attorney Arkady Tolpegin said that the defense intends to appeal the court decision: "In our opinion, the allegations are unmotivated. We are going to prove that no financial violations were committed".

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Detained officials in court

Sultanov and Shvedov were arrested in the framework of a large-scale purge of ranks in the Astrakhan region. On July 17, the ICR announced that 17 criminal cases have been instituted in the region under part 3 of Article 159 (swindling) and parts 1 and 2 of Article 286 (exceeding official powers) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Many regional ministers, officials, and businessmen have been charged in the framework of these cases. Local media outlets published the full list of suspects, including charges laid against them and pretrial restrictions requested by the investigation.

Here are the persons that should be, according to the investigation, remanded in custody:

  • Oleg Guzhvinsky, Acting Minister of Construction and Housing and Public Utility Sector of the Astrakhan Region; part 2 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Sergei Kuchumov, First Deputy Minister of Industry, Transport, and Natural Resources of the Astrakhan Region; part 2 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Sergei Stemasov, Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Astrakhan Region and ex-Head of the Ikryanoe District; part 1 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of official powers);

  • Svetlana Arkharova, ex-Deputy Minister of Construction and Housing and Public Utility Sector of the Astrakhan Region; part 2 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Sergei Marchenko, Head of the Technical Supervision Department of the Directorate of Capital Construction of the Astrakhan Municipal Administration; part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Sergei Stemasov, Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Astrakhan Region and ex-Head of the Ikryanoe District; part 1 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of official powers;

  • Leonid Eremeev, ex-Director of the Fund for Capital Renovation of Apartment Buildings of the Astrakhan Region; four episodes under part 1 of Article 201 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of authority);

  • Svetlana Arkharova, ex-Deputy Minister of Construction and Housing and Public Utility Sector of the Astrakhan Region; part 2 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Nurlan Kandykov, ex-Head of the Narimanov District and Chairman of the Chamber of Control and Accounts of the Narimanov District; part 2 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Igor Ivanov, Head of Astrakhansky Rural Council Municipal Unit of the Narimanov District; part 2 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Serik Magzanov, Deputy Head of the Volodarsky District; part 1 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of official powers);

  • Ilya Miroedov, Director of the Directorate for Implementation of Special Purpose Programs Municipal Budgetary Institution of the Kamyzyak District; part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Evgeny Ermolaev, Deputy Head of the Kamyzyak District Administration; part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Aleksei Savin, ex-Deputy Head of the Kamyzyak District Administration; part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Vladimir Vasiliev, ex-Head of the Department of Construction and Architecture of the Ikryanoe District Administration; part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers);

  • Aslan Karabasov, General Director of Volodarskoe PMK Limited Liability Company; three episodes under part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling);

  • Igor Mityachkin, Director of Atlant Limited Liability Company; part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling);

  • Aleksander Eremenko, Director of Yugplast Limited Liability Company; part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling);

  • Igor Goleusov, Director of Bastion Limited Liability Company; part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling);

    Below are the persons that should be, according to the investigation, placed under home arrest:

    • Aleksander Zuev, ex-First Deputy Director of the Fund for Capital Renovation of Apartment Buildings of the Astrakhan Region; part 1 of Article 201 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of authority);

    • Aleksander Kurakov, ex-Head of the Public Liaison Department of the Sovetsky District Administration of the City of Astrakhan; part 1 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (neglect of duty);

    • Sergei Malychenko, Director of Alfa Limited Liability Company; part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling);

    • Mikhail Kazunin, Director of Profkomstroy Limited Liability Company; four episodes under part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling);

    • Individual Entrepreneur R.G. Barkaev; part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling);

    • R.N. Saryev; Director of Astrakhanregionstroy; part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling);

    • S.V. Shamov, representative of Yunirost Limited Liability Company; part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling); and

    • R.N. Vodyanov, representative of Yunirost Limited Liability Company; part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling).

    According to some local media outlets, detained Vasily Kornil’ev, ex-Minister of Construction and Housing and Public Utility Sector of the Astrakhan Region (the predecessor of Guzhvinsky), has been charged with embezzlement of some 80 million rubles ($1.3 million) in the course of the implementation of the program “Safe and High-Quality Roads”.

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    Vasily Kornil’ev

    The investigation believes that, since 2015, heads of the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Public Utility Sector of the Astrakhan Region had illegally granted budget subsidies to the Fund for Capital Renovation of Apartment Buildings of the Astrakhan Region. Contrary to the Housing Code of the Russian Federation and legislation of the Astrakhan region, these funds were used to pay for services rendered by Social Guarantees Open Joint Stock Company. As a result, over 47 million rubles ($736.5 thousand) were illegally spent from the regional budget. 

    In addition, contracts to build apartments for people resettled from dilapidated housing were signed with businessmen. The acting and former heads of municipal units and officials of the regional administration responsible for this matter were aware that the works were not performed in full by the contractors or did not meet the requirements. Still, the officials had signed acceptance certificates and paid for these works. 

    Aleksander Kurakov, ex-Head of the Public Liaison Department of the Sovetsky District Administration of the City of Astrakhan, hasn’t included an unsafe building on Akhsharumova street in the resettlement program. All required material and financial resources were available – but the official decided not to resettle the people. 

    Fedor Babichev, Head of the Public Liaison Department of the Kirovsky District Administration of the City of Astrakhan, has also been criminally charged. For some reason, he failed to include an apartment building on Lychmanova street in the resettlement program. The official hadn’t taken any steps to perform the technical examination in a timely manner; instead, he suggested owners of the apartments to obtain documents required to recognize their housing dilapidated on their own. As a result, the building that may collapse any moment was not included in the registry of uninhabitable housing. 

    In total, seven persons have been detained in the framework of criminal cases pertaining to dilapidated housing: Oleg Guzhvinsky, Sergei Kuchumov, Sergei Stemasov, Nurlan Kandykov, Igor Ivanov, and two businessmen. On July 18, 2019, the court imposed pretrial restrictions on them: the officials were remanded in custody for two months, while the businessmen placed under home arrest.

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    Oleg Guzhvinsky

    Interestingly, the information about the criminal cases was published on the next day after the visit of Andrei Kikot, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, to the Astrakhan region. On July 15, he has heard the complaints of local residents and inspected some of the dilapidated buildings. On July 17, Kikot held an interdepartmental conference dedicated to the resettlement of people from dilapidated housing and capital renovations in the region. The Deputy Prosecutor General criticized the performance of local officials and noted the poor efficiency of the resettlement and capital renovation system. As a result, regional special purpose programs are not implemented, while renovation and construction works are performed with severe violations and low quality. According to Kikot, more than 300 buildings in the region have been recognized uninhabitable and are subject to resettlement; almost 5200 buildings require capital renovations; while the growth of new housing does not exceed 3%. The deputy of Yuri Chaika has taken the situation under personal control.

    On June 18, the Prosecutor's Office of the Astrakhan Region reported that the number of criminal cases has increased from 17 to 43 based on results of additional probes. Twenty-three suspects have been arrested and either remanded in custody, or placed under home arrest, or released under written pledges not to leave the city, or prohibited from performing certain actions. Five suspects – Babichev, Kurakov, Magzanov, Eremeev, and Marchenko – have been removed from their offices. 

    Igor Babushkin, Interim Acting Governor of the Astrakhan Region, agreed that the housing issue is "chronic" in the region and requires "a systemic reassessment". The regional head also promised to take the situation under personal control. According to Babushkin, he has noted "glaring problems with the resettlement from dilapidated housing, including capital renovations" immediately upon arrival to the Astrakhan region and decided to launch a probe and engage officers of the Prosecutor General's Office into it. "Governor Igor Babushkin initiated a submission to the Prosecutor General's Office in order to perform the required actions," – a source close to the Astrakhan Regional Administration told RBK Group.

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    Andrei Kikot at the conference

    The Interim Acting Governor does not rule out subsequent audits of other regional ministries: “There are numerous issues in the region; we will draw conclusions and make decisions upon familiarization with the problematics”. In another interview, Babushkin noted that, aside from the housing and public utility sector, there are plenty of other problems in the Astrakhan region, and he is going “to sort out things in all spheres. There are no untouchables here”.

    On Friday, July 26, Babushkin had a conference with heads of regional law enforcement structures behind closed doors. The arrests of Sultanov and Shvedov were announced on the same day. Commenting on this news, Babushkin promised to render every assistance to the investigation.

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    Igor Babushikin, Governor of the Astrakhan Region

    The gubernatorial elections in the Astrakhan region are scheduled on September 8, 2019; the experts are currently discussing whether the sweeping purge of the corrupt Astrakhan elite is a part of the election campaign of Babushkin or not. Political expert Dmitry Oleinik thinks that there is no direct relationship between the arrests in the regional government and forthcoming elections: “It is pretty difficult to organize such events. I am sure that the decision to arrest members of the government was not made in the campaign headquarters with the purpose to gain additional votes”. Still, Oleinik believes that the recent events will help Babushkin to remain the Governor of the Astrakhan Region because he is able to find common grounds with representatives of the law enforcement structures. 

    Political expert Pavel Salin believes that the mass arrests in anticipation of the election will have both positive and negative consequences for Babushkin. “Everything depends on the degree of negative attitude to the authorities among the general public. If this degree is high, such purges may cause a reverse effect; if not – the plans of the authorities may come true,” – Salin says. Political expert Aleksander Vasiliev has no doubt that the arrests of Sultanov and Shvedov will increase the political capital of Babushkin: “This is exactly what the region had expected – arrests of symbolic figures. This is going to affect positively the election campaign of Babushkin. There is a public demand on the clampdown on corruption and renewal of the system of power in the Astrakhan region”.

    Kirill Kabanov, Chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, also agrees that the Astrakhan region is plagued by corruption: “A question with regards to the Astrakhan elite has emerged a long time ago; there are such anachronisms of the 1990s there as heads of administrations appointing all their relatives to key posts and distributing all resources only between them. There is a standstill in the region: no significant resources; they live on water resources; and ‘caviar mafia’ still exists there”. Kabanov believes that the mass arrests in the region are the continuation of a large-scale purge of regional elite groups in southern Russia, which has started from Dagestan.

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